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Trump indicts America's ruling class

Glenn Reynolds

By Glenn Reynolds

Published August 14, 2015

Trump indicts America's ruling class

Watching the Donald Trump kerfuffle from across the Atlantic, British journalist Milo Yiannopoulos tweeted: "Republicans smugly predicting Trump will fail from self-inflicted wounds don't see what a stunning admission of their own failure that is."

He's right. The rise — and, for that matter, the fall, if fall it is — of Trump is an indictment of the GOP establishment and, for that matter, of the American political establishment in general. And that failure bodes poorly for the future, regardless of what happens to Trump.

Trump's rise is, like that of his Democratic counterpart Bernie Sanders, a sign that a large number of voters don't feel represented by more mainstream politicians. On many issues, ranging from immigration reform, which many critics view as tantamount to open borders, to bailouts for bankers, the Republican and Democratic establishments agree, while a large number (quite possibly a majority) of Americans across the political spectrum feel otherwise. But when no "respectable" figure will push these views, then less-respectable figures such as Trump or Sanders (a lifelong socialist who once wrote that women dream of gang rape, and that cervical cancer results from too few orgasms) will arise to fill the need.

But Trump and Sanders are just symptoms. The real disease is in the ruling class that takes such important subjects out of political play, in its own interest. As Angelo Codevilla wrote in an influential essay in 2010, today's ruling class is a monoculture that has little in common with the rest of the nation:

"Never has there been so little diversity within America's upper crust. Always, in America as elsewhere, some people have been wealthier and more powerful than others. But until our own time, America's upper crust was a mixture of people who had gained prominence in a variety of ways, who drew their money and status from different sources and were not predictably of one mind on any given matter. The Boston Brahmins, the New York financiers, the land barons of California, Texas and Florida, the industrialists of Pittsburgh, the Southern aristocracy and the hardscrabble politicians who made it big in Chicago or Memphis had little contact with one another.

"Today's ruling class, from Boston to San Diego, was formed by an educational system that exposed them to the same ideas and gave them remarkably uniform guidance, as well as tastes and habits. These amount to a social canon of judgments about good and evil, complete with secular sacred history, sins (against minorities and the environment), and saints. Using the right words and avoiding the wrong ones when referring to such matters — speaking the 'in' language — serves as a badge of identity. Regardless of what business or profession they are in, their road up included government channels and government money because, as government has grown, its boundary with the rest of American life has become indistinct. Many began their careers in government and leveraged their way into the private sector."

To this ruling class, the rest of the country is sometimes an annoyance or obstacle, sometimes a source of necessary funds or votes, but always the "other" — not our kind, dear. Too ignorant, too unpolished, too unconnected to the right institutions and pieties to really count. With ruling-class Republicans having more in common with ruling-class Democrats than with the people they rule, it's unsurprising that, as Codevilla predicted in a later essay, millions of voters feel orphaned. Democracy doesn't do much for technocratically set policy that always seems to reflect ruling-class preferences, and people feel they've lost control of their own fates.

Of course, orphaned voters aren't a bug but a feature for a ruling class that would prefer to rule without them. But in a democracy, which America still is, voters don't stay orphaned forever.

In this election cycle, Trump and Sanders have come forward to claim the orphaned vote. It's very likely that, this time around, the ruling class will manage to put orphaned voters back in the political orphanage by the time Election Day rolls around next year.

But the orphans will still be there, still longing for someone powerful enough to give them a voice. And the politician who will ultimately manage to do so, unless our ruling class does a better job of listening, could be one who will make Trump and Sanders look mainstream.

Trump and Sanders are only symptoms. Failed leadership is the disease.

Previously:
08/07/15 Politicos put past before progress
07/15/15 When party outsiders feel ignored, a champion appears to take their interests to heart --- or at least sounds as if he does
07/08/15 Are happier lawyers, cheaper legal fees on the horizon?

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Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor, is the author of The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself and is a columnist at USA TODAY.

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