By Thom Senzee
A new political class has assumed power in America. They’re the voters to whom conventional wisdom gives credit for putting Donald J. Trump in the White House despite his epic loss of the popular vote. And, whether they like the nomenclature or not, they are today’s political elites.
Not everyone who voted for Trump is a member of America’s new class of political elites. Some will vote for the Republican nominee even if said nominee were an inanimate object—seriously. Others—and I don’t say this lightly—simply hate Hillary Clinton more than they love America. Devout Hillary haters would brave a zombie apocalypse just to vote against her. But they are not part of the new class of political elites.
Members of this new class of elites have not been as vocal nor as visible as have been the so-called “Resistance” protesters of late. Compared to their fanatical, in-your-face rallies, the make-America-great-againers have been downright mild-mannered lately. Granted, the red trucker-hatters’ bashfulness is justified with the rolling in of Trump’s own Watergatesque fog with its own name; call it Russiagate.
Their newfound shyness notwithstanding, the new elites’ representatives in government hold nearly all the levers of federal power. So, what does this new power class want? Well, they want quite a lot. But before we dig into their wish list, which may or may not end up being fulfilled given the head-spinning disarray that Trump, the man seems unable to resist and the traction, which Trumpism, the philosophy seems unable to grab, let’s first be clear about who is and who is not part of America’s new elite class.
America’s new political elites are certainly not the usual suspects from Wall Street with whom Trump is rapidly overfilling his version of the proverbial D.C. swamp. To be fair, while former Goldman Sachs guys like Steven Mnuchin, once known as “The Foreclosure King,” are turning out to be a dime a dozen in Trumpland, they were equally ubiquitous in Obamaworld, as they would surely also have been in a mythical universe that might have been called Hillaryville, had it ever materialized.
Neither do America’s new class of elites harken from President Trump’s cadre of Hollywood and Silicon Valley “outsiders.” Trump’s troop of one-off California contrarians, including but not limited to celebrities and entrepreneurs Scott Baio, Peter Thiel, Stephen “The Other Brother” Baldwin, and as Fox News recently asserted, Lindsey Lohan, do not a new-elite cabal make.
Is there an ‘R,’ Vanna?
Just how do you spell “elite” in 2017? Turns out, with a whole lot of “Rs,” the first of which is for “rural.”
A significant segment of America’s new class of political elites are voters who live in rural communities. Among them may be folks who newly installed, billionaire Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos cited when she essentially said that Montana parents who send their children to public schools must want guns in classrooms in case a grizzly bear ambles in to eat them. Apparently, that is a pressing issue facing rural educators in Montana and beyond.
Ms. DeVos’s other big idea for the department she now runs is to dismantle America’s system of public education. Long considered the great leveler of the American economic playing field, Ms. Devos would like to transfer your tax dollars to educational corporations so they can decide what and how your children learn. I’m sure nothing could possibly go wrong there.
In a post-election analysis about the impact of rural voters in states like Michigan, Wisconsin and even Arizona and New Mexico published by The Washington Post, Northwestern University Professor Geraldo L. Cadaver noted that both white and Latino voters turned formerly blue rural counties red in 2016. That, in my opinion, puts rural Latino voters who cast their ballot for Trump among the most rarified of political elites in America today.
The second “R” is for Rust Belt.
Votes from manufacturing and mine workers of the retired, working and even the laid off variety had long been taken for granted by Democrats. The party’s political advocacy for this pool of voters, a great number of whom fall under the banner of organized labor, has been nominal in terms of tangible outcomes. Democrats need to face facts: They’ve been ineffective in terms of doing much to really advocate for unions, other than singing their praises in speeches.
What unions and union workers have needed more than anything is legislation to stop the steady creep of so-called right-to-work states, which should rightly be called “free-rider states” because workers who benefit from union contracts in such states don’t have to pay union dues, making unions weaker.
The Rust Belt wing of America’s new class of political elites rewarded president Barack Obama with reelection for his wildly successful efforts to save the American automobile industry, and with it the jobs of tens of thousands of workers. But retaining the cohesiveness of the Obama coalition was no sure thing for Hillary Clinton.
These formerly dependable Democratic voters knew that the 44th president of the United States saved their jobs while fighting against a resolute Republican Party, which in 2009 raged, “let General Motors and Daimler-Chrysler (now Fiat-Chrysler) die!” Back then they called Obama’s plan to save the U.S. auto industry “…the government picking winners and losers—socialism!”
Yet, in 2016, these now-elite voters comprised part of the electorate that was not only sufficiently large enough to help Trump eke out enough votes in Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida and Pennsylvania to become the 45th president, they also gave the same “let-the-auto-industry-fail” Republicans both houses of Congress.
The third “R” that describes America’s new elite class is for “ranchers and farmers”
If you live in states like California, Massachusetts or New York, you may feel like you’re getting slammed a lot by Washington D.C., and conservative media mavens these days. The president of the United States in a news conference last Thursday specifically called out New Yorkers and folks living in Los Angeles who try to make a living reporting the news as “dishonest.” Does Trump not remember railing against Ted Cruz for hurling his “New York values” insult while campaigning in Iowa?
The rarified rancher set on the inside of America’s new elite class are particularly precious in their hypocrisy. Don’t get me wrong; the only thing more romantic, enviable and admirable than the idea of a lonesome figure out on the range, making her living astride a trusty steed riding against the grain of an overly controlled 21st century mindset is the reality of an American rancher or other ruggedly individualistic American archetype.
But what gets on this fighting liberal’s last good nerve is when those fortunate enough to live lifestyles outside the urban and suburban confines in which most jobs are actually situated look down their collective nose at the average working person just trying to raise a family on the overpriced east, gulf or west coasts. Adding insult to injury is learning about the number of astronomically wealthy billionaires sucking up Bureau of Land Managment (ahem, Koch) dollars and public parkland resources, as documented in a recent article with the headline, Exposing America’s Billionaire Welfare Ranchers
An excellent post-election analysis written by Dan Nosowitz in Modern Farmer unpacked some of the reasons why America’s farmers swung heavily for Trump over Clinton. In it, he noted, while there are about 2.2 million farm workers in the U.S., only about 662,000 are eligible to vote because so many are undocumented workers (about 53 percent of the 2.2 million, says Nosowitz). Oh, the irony…a polite way of saying, oh the hypocrisy.
The fourth and fifth “Rs” are for “radical” and “right.”
I thought about saying “racist” here because, frankly, some of the Radical Right cohort within America’s new-elite class of political elites are just that. To be sure, not all members of the new-elite class are comfortable being associated with the radical right, part of which is the so-called Alt-Right. Alt-Right is another term for White Supremacist. However, a completely unscientific guesstimate might put the “Radical Right,” i.e., those who would like to see the complete overturning of Roe v. Wade and the jailing of women who undergo abortions, at about a one-third share of the new elite class. Again, that’s a completely subjective estimate.
Now, knowing who the new elites are, what do they want? First, they wanted Trump to be president of the United States. Done.
According to Trump, they also want coal-mining jobs back, regardless of whether or not anyone’s buying coal. According to Newsweek and Motley Fool energy reporter, Travis Hoium, coal is a dying industry because of market forces, not least among them, competition from renewable energy and natural gas.
They also want “extreme vetting” to keep potentially dangerous terrorists outside of our borders from getting into our country. Yet failing to do even basic vetting on his own cabinet nominees, Donald Trump lost his first choice for labor secretary partially because he, Andrew Puzder, had hired a household employee who was in the country illegally. Similarly, Trump had to fire several White House employees who failed simple background checks after they had already been hired on staff. So much for extreme vetting.
America’s new rural, Rust-Belt, rancher-farmer and radical-right elites still say they want a wall. But America is not about walls; it just isn’t. Need I say more?
America is about aspirations. The whole notion of elitism is kind of about aspiration too. I know it’s supposed to be an insult to say “you’re an elitist,” or “you’re part of the elite class.” But you know what? Abraham Lincoln read books by candlelight and aspired to become more than the situation into which he was born, as do many Americans…as do many immigrants. Today we have a new elite class. That’s great. I hope its members will aspire to something better than the impulses of the man they helped put into the White House, impulses which so far whisper deviantly to our lowest common denominators of fear and vanity. These are the least American things to which our new elites might aspire.
Thom Senzee is founder and moderator of the “LGBTs in the News” live-discussion panel series, and an award-winning Southern California journalist.
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