Q: You’re known for voicing conservative views on campus. Did you feel like you had a horse in the presidential race at all this year?
A: No. I’m on the conservative side, but I’m not of a party. I didn’t vote for anyone this year.
Q: Do you plan to take action, either as a teacher or in another role, in response to the election?
A: The morning after the election, I turned the first 40 minutes of class over to the students to talk about it, but after that I went on to the regular syllabus. We also just had a session in the seminar room on the election, not in the class but in a separate outside classroom event.
Q: You are, among many things, an expert in oratory. What do you think it was about Trump’s rhetoric that propelled his campaign?
A: It was simply that he was defiant against every person, angle, idea and behavior that the bulk of the population in the middle of the country were fed up with. It didn’t matter exactly what he was saying; all he had to be was against it. The more that he was against it, the more he was reviled and attacked by the media. The more the media attacked him, the more credibility he got with the population.
Q: What has been your impression of Yale students’ response to this, and the trend as a whole?
A: Generally, those who have come to me have been upset, distraught and feeling hurt; not knowing where to go or what to do; lost confidence in the future or their place in that future.
Q: Have you felt any of these things?
A: No. The point is, as I told the group in the seminar, that if you’re going to be in the business of international affairs, diplomatic service or the military and you are upset or distraught by the result of this election, then you shouldn’t be in the business. You should go look for another line of work. If you’re a surgeon, you don’t say “I’m not going to operate on this guy because I don’t know his ethics.” If you’re going to be in the world of big, international affairs, catastrophes are going to come more than once in awhile. That’s what the military and the diplomatic service are there for. They are there to handle catastrophes, not to be upset and weeping when one takes place.
Q: Couldn’t one be both upset or frustrated and step up to handle a catastrophe?
A: No. You can say “I disapprove of it, but I’m going to do my job.” But if you say “I’m upset,” if you’re emotionally troubled by it, then you may not have the emotional strength to do the job.
Q: Do you believe that America has become, over the past 20 or 30 years, more divided and polarized than it’s ever been before?
A: America has always been divided and polarized. All you have to do is review the dispute over World War I, the dispute over joining the League of Nations, the dispute between isolationism and getting involved in World War II, the disputes over the Cold War (which were bitter and vicious). It has always been divided.
What’s different about today is that one side has been superior and has been treating the rest of the country in a condescending, imperious way. In the previous periods, there was bitter fighting, but opposite parties still treated each other with respect. In this one, the elite — which is not a coherent, institutionalized organization but a collectivity of bureaucrats, politicians, media people and university people — have been treating the other pole as dirt.
Q: We’re talking in a place defined by elitism, in many ways. How do you see the elites’, or perhaps the intellectuals’, role going forward?
A: The intellectuals are to blame for this. You can look at an old French book, La Trahison des Clercs: “The treason of the intellectuals.” They are the ones who said that the way that Europe was in its long history had been wrong, and they were going to be better, more moral, than the Europe of the past. And it is the intellectuals of the America who have said, coming out of the Cold War, that the state was outmoded, that sovereignty was not a good thing and that borders should be open. By being politically dominant, they have imposed that view on the body politic without consulting or respecting the people not living in those cities.
Q: The division between elite and non-elite seems, at least to me, to be drawn in different places by different people. People point to class divisions, racial divisions, geographic divisions, just to name a few.
A: It’s not racial, it’s not class, it’s elite versus non-elite. If you live in Manhattan and get a job in finance, or if you live in Washington and get a job on Capitol Hill, or if you’re working in Silicon Valley and living in San Francisco, you are of the elite. You can come from anywhere, from any ethnic background. Once you are of the elite, you do what the elites do. You make a lot of money, you travel around the world and the bulk of American people are essentially invisible to you.
Q: And of course, the irony of it all is that you just described Donald Trump’s lifestyle.
A: Donald Trump may be a member of the elite, but he’s not accepted. He has a lot of money, and does the New York thing. But —and I may be wrong about this, this is just my impression — Donald Trump is not a member of Bohemian Grove in California or the elite clubs in New York. Donald Trump is going to build his own golf course to be a member of his own golf course. As I see it, he considers himself an outsider who has made it. That’s what is attractive in him to those who say “this is just as much of an ordinary guy with a dirty mouth as I am, here in my tavern in Chillicothe, Ohio.” But he’s made it.