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Meritocracy & the Middle Class

The omphalos point of the modern world (Ivosar/Shutterstock)

Rusty Reno explains why so many middle class whites are having a populist moment:

The relative success of Trump and Sanders shows that they’re rebelling against both left-leaning and right-leaning political establishments. That’s not because of identity politics. It’s because they’re in the best position to see the new character of our leadership class.


What white middle class voters are waking up to is that their natural leaders are being co-opted by the meritocratic system as well [as minorities’ leaders]. Hillary Clinton may have lived in Arkansas for decades, but she’s a creature of elite education and Goldman Sachs. People talk about the Clinton Machine. But it’s not at all like the machines of ward bosses and patronage jobs as sidewalk inspectors. The Clinton Machine is an interlocking network of very rich donors, high-placed journalists, and political elites. It operates at Davos, not in gritty ethnic urban neighborhoods.

For Christians, the starkest evidence of this is how the Republican Party caved on religious liberty in Indiana and Arkansas as soon as Big Business cleared it’s throat. Add to that the lesson from Rep. Scott Garrett’s isolation; despite being a faithful water-carrier for Wall Street, his apostasy on LGBT issues has made him a pariah among GOP megadonors and (therefore) the GOP Congressional leadership. Reno talks about how the Democratic and Republican elites serve the market above all, whether or not it benefits people further down the hierarchy from the Davos class. As far as that crowd is concerned, mankind will not be free until the last Southern Baptist is clubbed into submission with Bruce Jenner’s severed wing-wang. More Reno:

This gap isn’t just economic; it’s cultural as well. Our establishment is moving toward a post-national vision of the common good, while middle America seems eager for gestures and rhetoric that promises renewed national solidarity.

To a great extent, multiculturalism and other forms of “global consciousness” serve as companions to economic globalization. They promise to teach us how to navigate cultural differences in ways that defuse conflict, promote cooperation, and thus ease the way toward a global marketplace overseen by well-trained, benevolent technocrats from the Kennedy School of Government.

This approach need not be overtly ideological. It’s enough for us to downplay our local loyalties and to adopt a spirit of detachment from our histories. This can be done with plain vanilla relativism. The point is to strip away potentially divisive commitments, allowing us to focus on universal interests we share in common—the universal human desire to get richer, be healthier, and to satisfy individual preferences. This has led to a leadership class that is technocratic in its outlook but has trouble speaking about patriotic loyalties that unify us all.

Thus our volatile political moment.

Read the whole thing.

I saw a “Bernie 2016” bumper sticker on a minivan outside of church yesterday. I’m pretty sure the driver and his wife are quite religiously conservative. There was a time — like, the day before yesterday — when I would not have been able to understand religious conservatives for Bernie Sanders. Nor could I have understood Democrats for Donald Trump. I’m starting to get it now.

From historian Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation:

Indeed, it is crucially important that in the aggregate, people continue to conform to consumerism. No matter what, individuals must be left free to be selfish, because the manufactured goods life is needed to hold Western hyperpluralism together. In a world pullulating with so many incompatible truth claims, values, priorities, and aspirations, what else could do the trick?

What he’s saying is that individualism and consumerism are the only things that keep us from flying apart as a society. Is that going to be enough? What happens when the rising tide fails to float all (or most) boats? That’s what we’re starting to see now.

Serious question: what unites us as Americans? To what are we loyal, beyond our immediate self-interest? It’s not the Christian religion, or any religion. Is it to the principles of the Constitution? That seems quite abstract, in the end. What happens when people come to believe (rightly or wrongly) that the system is set up to prevent people like them from succeeding, or even to punish them?

The “Clinton Machine” is the Democratic version of the Machine. The Republicans are no different. The Democrats pretend that they care about the economic situation of non-elites who vote for them, and Republicans pretend that they care about the social concerns of non-elites who vote for them. What happens when people realize that it’s not true?

There may not be any realistic alternative at the ballot box, at least not now. But at least we shouldn’t deceive ourselves about what’s happening.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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