American society is designed by smart people, for smart people. Meritocracy is one of our core ideals, where the most talented will rise to the top and reap the economic rewards. American folklore is rife with stories of talented people born to humble origins who rose to spectacular wealth.
A lot of effort has been expended to extend “equal opportunity” to the masses. Through standardized testing of high school students, universities are able to identify talented students across the country and offer them scholarships to leave their hometowns and go to colleges far away from home, often in another state. There, they make friends with classmates at their own intelligence level, leaving their forgotten hometowns behind.
A “cognitive elite” has emerged, of people who went to prestigious colleges and then went on to high-paying jobs. Most of their closest friends are from college or their careers, and share their own intellectual level. This elite has traditionally controlled the hubs of culture, those being the mainstream media, Hollywood, the universities, and the K-12 teaching profession.
It is basic human nature to do everything one can to put one’s children into a position of privilege, so the cognitive elite has done a great job of making sure that most of their children also wound up in the cognitive elite of the next generation, sparing no expense toward that end. And of course, it helps a lot that intelligence is heritable.
So American society has become intellectually stratified, and the cognitive elite has developed a completely different culture, with different habits and values, to those outside of it. This is particularly illustrated by the 2012 book Coming Apart by Charles Murray. Knowing that his book would be read almost exclusively by the cognitive elite, Murray included a questionnaire about the customs and habits of white people outside the cognitive elite to demonstrate to readers how deeply they were out of touch with that culture. The book was more prescient of the coming of Trump than anything else that I have ever read.
The cognitive elite had some pangs of guilt about those who were less empowered, but efforts to fix this problem were limited almost exclusively to helping ethnic minorities and women, and specifically the most talented people from those groups, doing absolutely nothing to address the interests of people in general who just weren’t born particularly book-smart.
The cognitive elite developed a deep-seated contempt for those Americans who weren’t members of it, which was communicated through the hubs of culture which they controlled. Those left out of the elite felt this message loud and clear.
A globalist ideology emerged within the cognitive elite, that free trade across borders would bring prosperity to all, and the free movement of peoples across borders would be an unmitigated gain. Globalism did a great job of improving the prosperity of the cognitive elite, but manufacturing jobs that those outside the elite depended upon fled to the third world, devastating many communities, and competition from low-skilled immigrants, legal and illegal, undermined the bargaining power, and with it, the wages and working conditions, of low-skilled Americans.
Anyone who criticized global trade was dismissed as ignorant of economics, and anyone objecting to any kind of immigration was punitively dismissed as a “bigot”. An American of average intelligence from a community that had been devastated by globalization had few options, and was given advice like “learn to code”, something only feasible for someone whose intelligence was among the top 20%. Moving to a city meant leaving family and friends, and facing a drastically higher cost of living that a low-skilled person would have tremendous difficulty affording. The cognitive elite broadcast a constant, repetitive message to society: “If you’re not smart, screw you“.
So there was a very large mass of people who felt deeply betrayed by the cognitive elite. Since the gatekeepers of American culture all belonged to that elite, those who felt betrayed were prevented from airing their grievances. But with the emergence of talk radio, blogs, and social media, the “forgotten people” found a voice.
Trump promised to enforce the borders, against both migrants and imports, which was exactly what the forgotten people wanted to hear. He had had summer jobs at a young age on construction sites and learned to socialize with construction workers and relate to them on their own level, and he always spoke that way in public during his campaign and continued while in office. To the cognitive elite, he sounded like an idiot, but to the less educated masses, he seemed relatable, lacking in presumption, and very, very importantly, not a member of the hated cognitive elite.
As Trump emerged as the front-runner for the Republican nomination, Fox News lined up behind him.
Social media and the proliferation of news sources has led to a deep political polarization of American society, so much so that it’s very hard for people from opposite ends of the spectrum to have a civilized conversation. This is exacerbated by the fact that the left has such aggressive rules about what may or may not be said that its basically impossible to express the conservative world view (or, for that matter, any realistic one) without violating them.
I don’t think Trump has done a very good job of keeping his promises. The borders are not enforceable without bipartisan cooperation, and he doesn’t have a bipartisan bone in his body. His way of phrasing things just reinforces the liberal conviction that everything he does is stupid and mean-spirited.
But the cognitive elite should realize that there were legitimate grievances driving his rise, and that those grievances need to be addressed, or others (hopefully less abrasive and more competent) will follow in his footsteps.
The cognitive elite has a very, very strong opinion that anyone who is poorly educated or not book-smart is not worth listening to and can be dismissed out of hand. This means that the cognitive elite completely dismisses all input from outside of itself.
Most of the liberal end of the political spectrum are using conspiracy theories about magical forces on the Internet to dismiss the legitimacy of Trump’s election, and as an excuse not to do the homework of engaging in constructive, civilized debate with people with whom they disagree, and have utterly failed to face the reality that Trump voters are motivated by legitimate grievances and shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand as “deplorables”. Such people see Trump as an aberration that came from nowhere for no reason, like Godzilla rising from the ocean to attack Tokyo.
TO: zyquarx: Would YOU be able to enforce your promises under constant conspiracies against YOU as President of the United States of America??? Constantly sabotaging your tremendous efforts to fulfill all your promises? Constantly surrounded by all these unending evils? Then, YOU run for president and show us your “superiority” to my President Trump.
I’m unsubscribing from your meaningless criticism of my President Trump! Goodbye!
I think it’s worth mentioning that “Rosa”, whoever she is, responded to my post so quickly after I put it up that she couldn’t have possibly had time to read all of it.
Dear Bill, this was an excellently written article. I totally “get” what you are saying. This was a terrific, compact summary of the problem.