When the British Expeditionary Force arrived in France at the beginning of the First World War, the Kaiser called it a contemptible little army. The BEF held the line, however, and taking a perverse pride in the label its members took to calling themselves the “Old Contemptibles.” Something like this has happened, after Hillary Clinton labeled half of Trump’s supporters as deplorable. “Unfortunately, there are people like that,” she said, “and he has lifted them up.” That would be us, the Old Deplorables.
The remark ripped aside the mask of left-wing compassion and empathy. It’s not Adlai Stevenson’s Party any longer, a Party of honorable liberals. Instead, it’s a progressive Party, and progressives are liberals who have learned how to hate. Before Hillary’s LGBT audience, her remarks were greeted with the derision and laughter that bares its teeth. And then the chattering class of columnists doubled down. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank said that she had low-balled the number when she said that half of Trump’s supporter’s were racist. They were pretty much all benighted. National Review’s Jonah Goldberg said essentially the same thing. Trump’s supporters claim they are nationalists, but their nationalism is nothing more than “white identity politics,” which is simply a code word for racism.
In the past Americans have prided themselves on their unity, on their sense that we’re all together in the common enterprise of creating and celebrating a just and prosperous country, the envy of the world. We’ve continued to sense the common bonds of American identity, even though the ladder of economic and social mobility has been rolled up and parents no longer think that their children will be as well-off as they were. We’ve seen our children rack up huge student loans as they are taught to despise our country. We’ve observed our politicians who are indifferent as between foreigners and native Americans. We’ve noticed that the Fed’s low-interest policies serve to transfer wealth from fixed income retirees to stock market millionaires. But now the fog has lifted, to reveal a chasm between the two Americas. On one side there’s a New Class composed of the Clintons and Goldbergs, on the other an insurgent class that has begun to recognize that its interests are largely ignored by an elite political class.
I’ve not observed that our New Class has the standing to justify its sense of moral and cultural superiority to the insurgents. It’s easy to find, in their obscenity-laden expressions of contempt for Trump and the deplorables, a nastiness so much more vulgar than anything said by the man they despise. Read their blogs, their tweets, about their favorite television shows. Can you picture them in an Oxford common room, a Sciences Po lecture hall? They are our new précieuses ridicules, and all they have are their pretentions and their hatreds.
In their detestation of the insurgents, they have spawned a literature of redneck porn, in which they peer through their lorgnettes at an Oxy-sniffing underclass. J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is a tell-all tale about the vicious ways of West Virginia whites, and for David Brooks it’s “essential reading.” We’re meant to admire the way in which the author rose to become a Yale-educated lawyer, but that doesn’t explain the book’s success. Instead, the thrill comes from slumming with the undeserving poor, and the Pharisee’s gratitude that “I am not as the rest of men.”
The contempt for the underclass is nowhere more evident than in recent pleas that Republican members of the Electoral College betray their trust and vote for someone other than Donald Trump, if he secures a majority of votes. You’ll recall how the Electoral College was regarded as an undemocratic anachronism after the 2000 election, in which Al Gore won the popular vote but lost in the Electoral College. But now come David Rivkin and Andrew Grossman in the Wall Street Journal to tell us there’s something more important than democracy, and that’s preventing the insurgent class from electing one of its own.
They’re right to say that the Framers thought that the Electors would exercise an independent judgment, and might second-guess the voters. But they’re wrong to think that our 239 years of experience with democracy since then can so lightly be dismissed, or that the Electors could make anyone they wanted our next president. But when you think about it, what Rivkin and Grossman are expressing is nothing more than the New Class’s sense of entitlement, the belief that the most fundamental principle of American government is that they alone are fit to rule, that those who disagree with them are deplorables. And if there are, unfortunately, people like that, at least let’s not count their votes. Ah, my dear colleagues of the New Class, I think I do quite understand you.
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