But this whole controversy should serve to remind people that in this country you are allowed to make fun of “elites” for being cosmopolitan or intellectual or whatever else. Yet if you dare say something about “small town America,” watch out. ~Isaac Chotiner

Chotiner’s observation is correct, though I’m not sure what the point is, except to complain that there is an inherent political advantage in belonging to a larger group of people.  Most Americans live in cities and suburbs, so there are not that many small town Americans in terms of sheer numbers, but there are enough of them that the political consequences of offending or alienating them are much greater than if you take a stab at the much less numerous elites.  Besides, mocking elites is more widespread and widely accepted because it ultimately has no effect on anything and threatens no one.  The elites remain just as they were–on top–and it is mostly a way of letting off steam and venting frustrations.   

Criticisms of small town America, or any other part of America, coming from a  member of the political class is going to rile up some part of the electorate that identifies (for whatever reason, genuine or not) with the people being criticised.  There will also be much more attention paid to any perceived criticism of small town America, because it suits the interests of GOP supporters to portray themselves as defenders of small town America.  As Prof. Bacevich noted, “GOP support for such [social] values is akin to the Democratic Party’s professed devotion to the “working poor”: each is a ploy to get votes, trotted out seasonally, quickly forgotten once the polls close.”  Republican expressions of devotion to “small town America” are doing the same kind of work.  Also, it is throwing a bone to the people who keep voting for them (for some reason), as if to say, “See, we remember that you exist!” 

This is the kind of hollow symbolism that is supposed to make social and cultural conservatives ignore the fact that these Republican elites (that word again!) do not take their issues seriously and have their own priorities.  Meanwhile, most Republican talking heads will gasp in horror whenever anyone on the left dares speak against corporate elites, who are, of course, the “good” kind of elites, because they are the people with whom the GOP is frequently aligned.  When corporate elites are mentioned, the liberal disdain for populist appeals against academia, the media or Hollywood and the like will suddenly be replaced by a ferocious anti-elitism.  This typically entails giving more power to the state, which many on the left pretend is populism, just as many on the right pretend that empty symbolic gestures constitute cultural populism.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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