In an apocryphal exchange between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, Fitzgerald said, “The rich are different from you and me.” To this Hemingway replied, “Yes, they have more money.” This gets repeated a lot, because it tickles the egalitarian sensibilities of most Americans. A big part of what has kept America together since the Civil War is the myth that ours is a classless society. Some people have more money and power than others, but that’s entirely due to merit, not class and connections.
Like the exchange itself, this belief is completely false. Every society has an elite and that elite uses its influence and connections to perpetuate itself. The daughters of rich guys marry the sons of influential guys. Their children are groomed to take up positions in the elite, mostly due to their family connections in the elite. Just as important, a floor is placed under members of the elite, protecting them from reversion to the mean. It’s how the Kennedy family has been in politics for four generations, despite their deficiencies.
What used to be unique about the American elite is they had a strong connection to the rest of America. This is a big, continent sized country, composed of man nations. That regional diversity, which is driven by biological diversity, made for a national elite that was really just a collection of local elites. This greatly reduced the distance between the elites and those over whom they ruled. Therefore, the American elite tended to be less elite, relative the Europe, and much more connected to the people.
In this interview on C-Span, Tucker Carlson explains some of the themes in his book and how he had this epiphany about what is happening in America. It’s an amazingly frank interview about how he and his fellow elites know pretty much nothing about the country over which they rule. At around the seven minute mark, he makes the point that he and his neighbors don’t know things like how much gasoline costs. The reason is, they have lots of money and the price of staples is simply unimportant.
Carlson is in many respects, a throwback. He’s what the WASP elite used to be like in previous generations. That is, he grew up in privilege, but had plenty of exposure to the common people and developed some common habits. In that same interview, he mentions that Claiborne Pell drove a beat up old car, despite being from old money. It was partially an affectation, but it was also a sensibility. American elites not only did not want to look like elites, they wanted to make sure they were a responsible elite.
That’s the interesting thing about Carlson’s book. It’s being bought and read by the hoi polloi, but it is aimed at his neighbors in Georgetown. It is a warning to them that they better start paying attention to what’s happening on the other side of the great cultural wall that separates us and them. What’s even more interesting is the people who should be reading it, are not reading his book. Instead they are attacking Carlson for it. They want his severed hands to be put on display in the Capitol rotunda.
The fact is, the Trump phenomenon is showing that the time for reform has passed and whatever comes next is unavoidable. That’s a truth about all reform efforts. Once a reform effort gets going, it is almost always too late for reform to work. The entrenched interests are too strong to overcome. Democracy moves quickly from a point where corruption is too minor to be of any concern to a place where corruption is too rampant for the system to confront it. Systemic failure is the core code of democracy.
You see this in late empire America. The ruling elite is composed of many parts, none of which has a reason to care about public welfare. The so-called deep-state is thoroughly beholden to global interests, many of whom are foreign. The semi-permanent administrative state is composed of people who hold the rest of us in contempt and people happy to not be subjected to the vagaries of the dreaded private sector. The mass media is a collection of propagandists and court jesters, mostly stupid rich kids.
The political class is always the main focus of reform, which is why many Americans are flirting with the sort of radicalism circulating in dissident politics. These well trained actors run for office on well-designed appeals to bourgeois sensibilities, then immediately begin speaking in tongues when they get to Washington. To follow modern politics, as a normal person, is to see the movie They Live over and over, thinking there can be a different ending, that the aliens will come around to our side.
The reason for this is the political class is just a collection of hired men. The plutocrats, who control both parties and the administrative state, have found that it is a lot easier to hire actors to stand in for them in office. That means every election, the choice is between two actors hired by the same people, playing different carefully scripted roles. When they get to Washington, they are given a different script. It is why so many of them are quite dumb. Stupid people don’t ask too many tough questions.
The defining feature of our modern elites is that a big part of who they are, their sense of identity, comes from not being us. The cultivated contempt from FBI functionaries like Peter Strzok and Lisa Page is part of the dress code of these people. In the same way a rich guy will sport an understated, but expensive watch or article of clothing, the people who rule over us wear a contempt for Americans, especially white Americans. The dying white middle-class is especially despised by the administrative state.
This is why reform is impossible. We see this with Trump and we would have seen it if Bernie Sanders had scored the upset. It’s not about the old ideological framework. It is about the new cultural framework. The people who rule over us see themselves as different from us, at war with us. They are defined by that sense. While it is amusing to see Carlson play the jocular Cicero role, it is important to remember the fate of Cicero as Rome succumbed to authoritarianism. No one should buy him gloves for Christmas.