Trump has arrived in no small part because ordinary people are apparently fed up with the elites running the show. But before we buy into this narrative, I want to know who are these elites that everyone suddenly seems to despise?
Let’s start with Wikipedia which says elite is “a term that originates from Latin eligere (“to choose, elect”). In political and sociological theory for a small group of powerful people that controls a disproportionate amount of wealth, privilege or political power in a society.” We could say that Trump himself is something of an elite given his financial status and his inherited privilege but apparently his supporters don’t mind. Frankly that seems like a bit of a cognitive disconnect for me but clearly millions of Americans weren’t troubled. They were more concerned about Clinton’s elitism..
I recently experienced some first hand Trump mania here in Oz. In a small country town one old bloke who was a bit down on his luck was over the moon about the election of Trump. For him it was the start of a revolution in politics where ordinary people (like himself) would be listened to because Trump wasn’t just a politician, he was a businessman (presumably in the business of looking after ordinary people by closing his factories and importing his products). Again the disconnect seemed palpable but the passion was intense which worries me but on a very different level.
Two days later I again experienced the sort of atmosphere where Trump-ism is considered at least acceptable. It was a country race meeting where comfortably genteel peoples gather to drink champagne and watch horse racing. Maybe I imagined it but Trump’s victory seemed to hang in the air as some kind of sign, the forgotten bush folk have a new saviour who isn’t going to let those hipster elites tell them what to do. The crowd seemed older and predominantly anglo which inclined me to think they had a number of issues but when the topic of Trump came up with some younger people they were quick to point to all of Clinton’s failings (being a stooge for the elites seemed to be the common theme) while almost breathlessly romancing Trump’s capacity to change the game.
Given the rather conventional definition of “elite” and the perception that Donald is somehow anti-elite it seems to me that what these two instances highlight is this. The term “the elites” everyone is bandying around in the year of Trump is really a derogative shorthand for the urban intelligentsia who spend their time sipping latte’s while facebooking and laughing at the ignorant country folk. The fact that we seem to have bred certain politicians who are clearly at home with this mob means they must be part of the elite conspiracy too.
The other thing Dr Google offered me was plenty of web sites that discuss the conspiracies of elites running the world. I’ve no doubt plenty of people believe in the existence of a small bunch of elite puppet masters who pull the political strings all over the world but how does Trump help with that? Is he going to suddenly tax the shit out of wealth and close down the arms industries? Maybe he will nationalise the banks as part of making America great. No, he’s going to build some bridges and few fences. That will fix those pesky elites.
How is it that Trump is not seen as part of the “elite” problem when he has been a beneficiary of the system for all his life? Inherited wealth, check. Accrued power and privilege from wealth, check. Tax avoidance, check. Male privileges, check. And the list goes on.
Yet this seems to be a fact free world, post President Trump where words are just a smokescreen for feeling real. The imaginary world of climate change and its hipster disciples have run head on into the reactionary dispossessed who simply want their old jobs back. If Trump says he will fix it that’s good enough for them despite the obvious problem with taking the spoken word literally.
Our world is increasingly complex and there are obvious limits on how much complexity humans can cope with. The elites in Donaldspeak are a very big simplification which seems to avoid uncomfortable facts because they would challenge too many sacred cultural cows. And it seems completely appropriate to conclude by observing that Adolf Hitler made Germany great too, for a while. And he had his own elite problem.