Donald Trump and the Other Class Warfare

When democratic masses tire of being condescended to.

by Bruce S. Thornton // FrontPage Magazine

Photo via FrontPage Magazine
Photo via FrontPage Magazine

The rise and continuing popularity of Donald Trump reminds us that “class warfare” is an eternal constant of democracies, for as Plato said, every city is in fact two cities, “one the city of the poor, the other of the rich; these are at war with one another.” But possession of wealth is not the only factor in this eternal conflict between the few and the many. The masses of course resent the elites’ greater wealth, but even more they dislike the assumption of superior wisdom and virtue that elites have always claimed as justifications for their status. It is this galling assumption and the anger it arouses in people that Donald Trump has brilliantly exploited.

Many Republicans correctly see that this popular anger is usually directed against progressives. The typical Democrat reflexively assumes that he is smarter and better educated, thinks more “scientifically,” and has more cultivated tastes than the masses in flyover country who cling bitterly to their guns and religion, as the President once said. All true, but many in the Republican elite often display the same attitudes. We saw this in some of the responses to Trump’s remarks on immigration. Lindsey Graham called Trump a “wrecking ball,” and Jeb Bush said Trump’s remarks were “unfortunate” and advised, “We must have a more civil policy debate in this country.” In other words, it wasn’t the truth of Trump’s remarks that mattered, but their déclassé tone. Similarly, John McCain has called Tea Partiers and Trump followers “crazies” and “wacko-birds.” The implication is that social inferiors and ignoramuses are meddling in the business of their betters.

The people may be “uninformed,” as faux conservative columnist David Brooks said in explaining Trump’s popularity. But they know when they are being condescended to, and they’re good at detecting when a leader supposedly on their side behaves as though decorum and elite solidarity are more important than truth and principle. John McCain provides another example. In 2012 he attacked Congressman Michele Bachmann and four other Congressmen for raising questions about Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s family connections to the jihadist Muslim Brotherhood. From the floor of the Senate McCain blasted the “unwarranted and unfounded attack on an honorable woman, a dedicated American, and a loyal public servant” whom he considers a “friend” attacked “without concern for fact or fairness.”

To many conservatives, it seemed that elite inside-the-Beltway bonhomie was more important to McCain than determining whether or not his word “unwarranted” was just begging the question. Nor did he seem interested in whether or not it was a bit dangerous to have the chief officer of our foreign policy establishment, the Secretary of State, so close to someone intimately linked to an ideology inimical to this country’s security and interests, particularly at a time when the administration was advancing the cause of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

That sort of political good-old-pols-club solidarity is what angers many people. They are also sick of the carefully parsed and qualified and nuanced and poll-tested statements that are yet another device for avoiding the truth and hiding true motives. They sense that “insiders” with their bespoke suits and college degrees and smooth rhetoric are patronizing them and sacrificing their interests and principles. They get that the constant calls for “civility” and “decorum” are camouflage for the grubby pursuit of personal power and advancement, and a disdain for the common folk. Perhaps that’s why Trump’s dismissal of McCain’s status as a war-hero did not exact the price one would have expected, given the high regard Americans have for veterans. Perhaps many people figured that McCain had for too long made a career out of waving the bloody shirt rather than challenging the progressive status quo bankrupting the country and endangering our security and interests.

Or take the establishment Republicans who dismiss the disorder and crime created by illegal immigration, and call for “comprehensive immigration reform.” Many can see that this “reform” will be a reprise of the 1986 “reform”––all amnesty and no border enforcement–– that helped create today’s mess. A lot of ordinary people who live among concentrations of illegal aliens have to put up with a level of daily crime and disorder that well-heeled Republicans never experience. These people resent the implications that they are “xenophobes” and “nativists” harboring racist sentiments. They see a problem that needs fixing, but all that many in their party give them is the same old “nation of immigrants” bromides, rhetorical cover for ensuring a steady supply of cheap labor for capitalist cronies. So why should we be surprised that Trump’s blunt talk on immigration struck such a chord, especially when followed by several murders of Americans at the hands of felonious illegal aliens allowed to roam free?

Finally, the political elite’s deference to the media is yet another sign to many that Republican politicians belong to the same club of insiders that includes the D.C. press corps. Many people are sick of Republicans preemptively cringing before reporters who are so obviously on the side of progressives, and who never subject Democrats to the same level of scrutiny and aggressive questioning. That’s why Trump’s followers like him––he shows obvious scorn for the media, even Fox News. He doesn’t buy the media’s nonsense about being “objective” purveyors of news or “watchdogs” of the public weal rather than the partisan hacks most of them are. One cannot imagine Trump letting Candy Crowley blatantly help out a debate opponent the way Mitt Romney let her bail out Obama during their 2012 debate.

Whether these perceptions are true or fair is not the point. Democratic politics in an age dominated 24/7 by the visual more than the verbal is mostly built on perceptions that become a political reality. Just look at the outsized reputation of John F. Kennedy, a confection not of achievement as much as marketing, or that of Obama, completely a creation of collective racial neuroses and perceptions disconnected from the reality of the man’s mediocre achievements. Trump gets that, and he knows that the more the elites call him “vulgar” the more a lot of people will like him and perceive him as a foe of the elites. He “tells it like it is,” as the cliché goes, and so appears more genuine and honest, a plain-talking regular guy.

Trump’s willingness to brutally slap down the pretensions of the elite establishment makes his wealth irrelevant. Indeed, his billions endear him even more. In this Trump reminds me of the aristocrat Alcibiades of ancient Athens, who bragged about his lavish spending, understanding that the masses often will forget their envy of wealth if a leader turns against his own class and their arrogant assumption of superiority.

Since the rise of the Tea Party this traditional dynamic of democratic politics has defined the Republican Party. Senator Ted Cruz has been the most visible vessel of this anti-elite sentiment, calling for strong legislative action rather than for nostrums about “bipartisanship” and “reaching across the aisle,” which many see as fancy talk for the collusion of elites from both parties in keeping the Federal Leviathan well-fed. But Trump has greater advantages––the independence of private wealth, high name recognition from his years on television, and a lack of verbal nuance and hair-splitting that delights the masses, who since the time of Athenian comedy have enjoyed seeing the pretensions and arrogance of the elite subjected to scorn and insult.

Whether tapping into this ancient impulse can carry Trump to the nomination, let alone the presidency, is another matter. But the Republican Party had better take heed of the anti-elitist sentiments that have always roiled the democratic masses. By election day next year Republicans will have controlled Congress for two years, and they’d better have something more to show for it than a bipartisan trade agreement and endless appearances on Fox News and Meet the Press.

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27 thoughts on “Donald Trump and the Other Class Warfare”

  1. Now the Republican party apparently trying to prevent Trump from running by insisting he agree to support whoever is nominated. This is going to be the death of the Republican Party and I say good riddance.

    1. If the Republican Party tries to prevent his run because he fails to display blind loyalty, even I, ‘Mr. GOP’ will become a Tea Part revoltee.

    2. I am concerned that we may be trading one “dictator” for another. Will Trump play well with others, namely the Congress and Senate? Obama certainly hasn’t and I worry Trump may do likewise. Trump’s populist appeal is largely attributable to his willingness to not stand on ceremony and be provocative while other Republicans fear offending moderates and elites within the Republican Party. Unfortunately, I continue to fear 2016 is for the Republicans to win or lose; and at this rate, I fear the Republican Party is headed for civil war and a possible loss unless and until they can get Trump, Bush, Cruz and the chiefs within the Republicn Party find a means to compromise and pull together to win.

  2. Trump is the only one to map out a “comprehensive immigrant plan” by using current laws to deport illegals and to provide for the normal procedure of immigration.
    He knows how to negotiate successfully in tremendous contrast to Obama’s inability to negotiate with anyone!

  3. Agree at article. I disagree with one point. As a communication specialist and research on anger and bitterness, I think it’s important to differentiate between Complaints, Criticisms and Contempt or character attacks. If a leader dwells too long on attacking the character of opponents it gets too close to home for most of us and we begin to cringe.

    Speaking bluntly when a person has a lot of likability works. However, contempt rare
    Y carries the day.

  4. 2BruceThornton 4ClassWarfare
    The pursuit of happiness as enshrined in the Declaration of Independence turns into a warfare only under constraints imposed by a finite-wealth universe. Once you embrace the notion that the universe is rational, infinite, and knowable the pursuit of happiness ceases to be a zero-sum game. The conflict arises between those who pursue wealth creation and those who pursue wealth distribution. The two camps are not mutually exclusive of each other. They mutually endeavor to co-opt the other’s pursuits to foster ones own. In this sense it is a faux class warfare.

  5. Is there any reason to think that Donald Trump would NOT be reasonably successful as US President? Successful in comparison with rat Obama, successful in comparison with a possible Hillary Clinton presidency? The bar is pretty low right now!

  6. You hit the nail on the head with this piece.
    Exceptionally perceptive writing.
    Trump has really stirred resentment in the media and ruling class, left and right.
    The pundit class seems to be protecting their bailiwick mostly.
    It’s pretty disgusting. Trump doesn’t fit and the commenters who aren’t elected & continue no matter who’s in power at the moment think they own the game.
    Elections come and go but Rather and Cronkite or Huntley and Brinkley or who ever the modern equivalents are keep commenting.
    McCain’s been milking that War hero crap for ever.
    Somehow that gives him entrée
    but Trump’s just a gauche businessman (It’s like he has callouses on his hands or something).
    It’s their club and their game and Trump isn’t playing it.
    Jeez, does Bush resent Trump not being a member of the club or what?
    As a little person I resent Bush and Kerry and Biden and all those Jerks, Left or Right.

  7. Insightful right to the core! Bruce and Victor are always good, but this article is historic. I now know why I feel so completely oppressed. Because of my success, whiteness, conservative nature, straightness, ownerness and non-Muslimness, I am completely oppressed by the elites and the minions who run this country. I cannot voice my opinion in public or in private, much less at an institution of education. I cannot display my interests nor beliefs freely. The culture discriminates against me should I ever be in a conflict with someone in a different class than me, such as someone with brown skin or femaleness or is LGBT or an atheist, or a Muslim.
    I have felt this oppression in the form of intense cerebral pain for many years. Now your article reminds me of the visceral reaction we people who have been oppressed feel. We want a leader strong enough to bring back our sane lives even if he is sometimes crass. If he’s a crook we only know he already has enough that he is not as needy as all the previous crooks. It may be a small price to pay, to return to sanity.

    1. Charles Gonzalez

      I feel for you Doug. The odds are really stacked against you in life aren’t they. I know you must be a reasonable educated, successful and confident man. A father. And perhaps a grandfather like me. Maybe you even played football in college, but your response was well on its way to whining about now bad in have it. Are you really that scared and oppressed?
      I told my son when he graduated college 20 years ago when he started whining about the decline of the white male. I told him I had never heard him utter such a pathetic statement so full of rubbish. This country only truly rewards those who work and sacrifice, not whiners. I told him to get off his ass and work if he wanted to succeed. The country had changed and he had better make sure that he had what it took to succeed and rise above the rising tide of mediocrity caused by looking at life in the rear view mirror. Doug, I know you know better. If you like Trump’s attitude, then mirror it in your daily interactions, consequences be dammed. Whiney liberals usually can’t respond adequately either.

      1. I, too, have the same misgivings about Trump. If he were elected president (how surreal would that be?), he may find it difficult to transition from the corporate world, where it’s normal for the CEO to act like a benevolent dictator, to the political world, where he’ll have to deal with the Constitution and two other co-equal branches of government.

        We’ve already had 6.5 years of one incompetent Caesar who has ruled with a “phone a d a pen.” I don’t want elect another one.

      2. Charles, Thanks for your reply. I was stating a slightly tongue-in-cheek realization. I live in a very liberal area, and have spent much time in my retirement fighting the good fight for pro-America, pro-free enterprise values especially on college campuses. This wonderful article helped explain the intense anger I feel toward those who have created a world where young people will not have the opportunity I had. I started with $450 and built a large business and a wonderfully successful life. So you don’t hear whining, but you hear my realization that we successful taxpayers are a genuine underclass in important respects. Trump’s tone is a call for whoever will be the GOP nominee, and I trust it will never be Trump, to fight back hard enough to make the US again a country where a young person is free enough to also build a very successfu life.

  8. We live in an openly post-logical world where the standard of truth, as enabled or enforced by the elites, is that it contradicts fact and logic. We are in the midst of the American Civil War II, where only harsh words matter, because, just as before CW I, compromise and political skill are not equal to resolving our divisions.

  9. Trump is a violent water spout on the calm and tranquil offshore sea of political correctness . No surprise that the public is weary of pollster/lawyer filtered mousy and meaningless comments from the threadworn political yapsters clogging up their tv screens. The truth is always going to offend those who want everyone else to pretend it doesn’t exist.

  10. Charles Gonzalez

    Professor Thornton makes a good play, but in the end misses the end zone. Trump scores for all the reasons he describes. I find him great political theatre, as I have enjoyed him as a New Yorker for the past 35 years. He treated the elite NYC real estate crowd the same way he treats Republican politicians. But a modern day Alcibiades? He is truly off his classical professor rocker. If that is how the good Professor really thinks of Trump, then the masses deserve the outcome that the Greeks got from his hero Alcibiades. It did not work out to well for either the young dashing millionaire or the Greek state. Come back to earth Professor.

  11. Google “Donald Trump” and “Business Insider,” and see the article about his Face the Nation interview during which he signaled who he has chosen to be scapegoat for the ongoing Wall Street debacle.

    Is it the politicos, who have been spending beyond the nations means for generations? Nope. Is it the Fed, whose artificially suppression of interest rates has made genuine price discovery on assets across the board impossible? Not at all. Instead, according to Trump, it is the hedge fund managers — a.k.a. “the evil speculators” — who are at fault. Why? Get this: because they are under-taxed. I kid you not.

    This “man on the white horse” thing has been known, as far back as Herodotus, to rarely work out well, and this Trump card is highly unlikely to be an exception to the rule.

  12. Perfectly said. Thanks.

    Trump is a bridge for conservative anger against the Washington establishment. Similarly, Sanders is a bridge for leftist outrage against the Washington establishment. The zeal of both camps is directed at the same place, though the suggested solutions are polar opposites. Both camps want to take out their perceived enemies on the other side of the aristocratic chasm; Trump and Sanders bridge that gap.

  13. A Proposed Remedy for the Smug Condescending Punditry & Political Class y

    A Talmudic Audited Punditry Fantasy League Scorecard: A Proposal

    A story of elitist condescension:

    The smug self satisfied (meigis libo) with his Torah learning and wisdom Rabbi Elazer rode his donkey back from studying with his teacher.
    On his way he was greeted on the road by a very ugly person.
    ‘Greetings, Rebbe,’ stated the man.
    Elazar respond, ‘empty one. Are all the people of your town as ugly as you?’
    The man retorted, ‘I don’t know but you should go to the Craftsman who made me and tell him how ugly is the vessel that he made.’
    Ta’anit 20a-b, as related in With Heart in Mind, Alan Morinis

    The patch should be proportionate to the hole
    Bubbe Schwartz

    Before Political Correctness (censorship by any other name), prior to when every one got a trophy ‘for attendance’ (rather than winning) in particular relative to sports there was and there still is keeping score – in particular scoreboards, box scores. And still, daily stock quotes and mutual fund results daily, year to date, annually – are updated – to ‘keep score.’
    The media and the political punditry (in particular, Georgetown and New York affiliates) love to self congratulate itself with self bestowed awards (prominently mentioned in their outlets no less) loving to score but hating to be scored. The media and punditry self selects itself out of being judged on its merits and its own meritocracy.
    Of course, the erudite media might counter with ‘we do retractions’ though its patch is miniscule relative to the hole.
    When has the retraction, in size, let alone the placement (buried) and or frequency equaled the size of the gaping hole in the newspaper, or the the broadcast media’s blaring equalized the over the fold mistake, falsity, or worse? Without double entendre intention, size, placement and frequency does count – and the patch should (but isn’t) proportionate to the hole – by these Holy of Holies.
    The talking heads when they do the rare rare rare admission qualify it with brevity (and quick pivot). There is very little or no remorse. The ‘confession’ if any is typically an excuse or a Clintonesque sorry (not admission but rather sorry I got caught implying they were the victim possibly fearing the recognition they of on high were dead ass wrong least they pay the price Dick Morris incurred for his wrong Romney predictions.
    Thus these eloquent elitist commentators of ritualized euphemized passive aggression – castigate the likes of the anti PC Trump as a bombastic blowhard (which is another subject and debatable). Yet, constructively these pundits, when one scrapes away the self serving insightful make up and made up, are the one’s full of unaccountable posterior hot air. These pundits do not face daily scoring like stocks, like baseball, football players, and the rest of us – whose evaluation are there for all to see. (And the pundits & commentators counter that they are subject to Ombudsman or the like – is self regulation – a crap game of Dracula guarding the blood bank). (1)

    So I propose the initiation of The Hot Stove Thrill Down My Leg Punditry Fantasy League. Baseball statistician extraordinaire Bill James and his compatriots would be hired to create the relevant measures to score assertions and predictions versus actual results and accuracy as well as frequency and size of mistakes & omissions. And as an added attraction, akin to Fox’s Special Report Presidential Candidate Casino – bets can be placed on or at the local Punditry Fantasy League Liecyum relative to media “ruins, hits and errors..”
    Of course, as expected, the pusillanimous pundits will argue they can’t be measured (even though Rush Limbaugh yes Rush Limbaugh has had an ongoing by opinion audit by The Sullivan Group!!) due to

    • the nuanced nature of their commentary
    • their commentary is merely opinion & “opinions are like assholes” (every one has one, yes, but some assholes are larger & have a bigger stage & toilet), (2)
    • and of course, c) the default of minimizing the scoring value – ‘given all the variables involved ‘out of our control’ so as to kill the better in the name of the perfect (like teachers’ unions against charter schools)

    These high priests of effete punditry ‘unanswerable’ snobbery (though they have all the answers for others) prefer to scorn rather than be scored. .

    Eventually the punditry scorecard could go real time on Yahoo Sports – highlighting the punditry’s ruins, hits and their multitude of errors. (Note George Will, bow tie and all, is banned from any input in the statistical measurement determination, Peggy Noonan is disqualified regardless of the Georgetown party fine Rieslings she may offer for a personal ‘carve out,’ and Rachel Maddow & Chris Mathews thoughts are disregarded as mere potty propaganda rather than punditry.

    Bottom line: a punditry scorecard – “fair & balanced & not afraid of full or FOOL’s disclosure’ – is necessary to correct these ‘experts’ inherent haughty meigis libo ugliness and get off them off their high hoarse donkeys.

    1.- Ombudsman paid for by the same media outlet is self dealing – like Iran inspecting it’s own nuclear sites. It goes without saying The Punditry Leagues’ policing Media Fuzz disqualifies Media Buzz and CNN’s Media Doesn’t Matter on principle.
    2.- The variation of The John Stewart excuse (I’m just a comedian) gets one on the punditry waiver wire.
    * Liberal progressive pundits (other than those named) were not specifically addressed as one sage once remarked to this writer, “there are saints, sinners, and savables’ we waste our time disproportionately on the sinners (i.e. Ed Schultz, Juan Williams, Chris Mathews, and of course Debbie Wasserman Schultz)

  14. What do we do about Republicans whose campaign promises to us are never sincerely meant from the outset? We’re supposed to grin and bear it because the Democrats are far worse. We need to escape the funny house of false choices. We also need to consider what qualities a good president would need to bring the federal bureaucracy under effective control. GW Bush never mastered that.

  15. From the way Mr. Trump carries himself around now as a potential POTUS we can say he certainly is a ‘disruptor’ in the rough and tumble game of politics. He seems to have the game plan in place an firing away and everywhere on all cylinders. Question is is it the real thing and will he give reality to a new American Land of Oz. Will he be the ‘wizard’ or what?

    I don’t know. For sure he wants a ‘golden age’ where America shines and is great again. But something tells me the rhetoric must match the execution of those dreams. Right now I’d say arguably he’s a political Barnum bringing lots of people into the ‘tent’ to get the entertainment and the ‘message’. All I’d ask is can a ‘Barnum’ also be a ‘Pericles’. I’m not too sure those fellows can exist in the same man…;-)….

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