The dim, grey technocrats who have taken hold of America and much of the West for the last few decades are feeling cornered and exposed. Their PR men are coming up with new and weird excuses. David Brooks in The New York Times argued recently that for all its faults, America has a “meritocratic elite.” According to Brooks, this group is opposed mainly because of white working class cultural resentment. He believes that America’s ruling class today is at least superior to the postwar WASPs who ran the country in the 1950s and 1960s.
But America’s Protestant establishment ran the country before World War II, as well. They won that war. They built the Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Empire State building in less than two years at the height of the Depression. After the war, they took the country to the moon. It’s hard to see how websites like Google—or other “innovations” like collateralized loan obligations—can compare, glorious though these may be in their own way. Our current ruling class, with all its computing power, human resources “synergies,” and vibrant diversity, took seven years to build an on-ramp to that same Golden Gate Bridge.
Boomers are self-absorbed in the psychodramas of their youth. They have little curiosity about history or the outside world. David Brooks, himself a parochial man, doesn’t seem to know or care that the same populist movement led by Trump in America exists now around the world, and therefore can’t have anything to do with the white working class as such. In Korea, the Philippines, Hungary, and much of Western Europe, new political leaders have been winning elections by running against the manifest failures and corruption of the establishment: busted borders, rampant criminality, or precipitous decline in living standards. In Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu is opposed by the same coalition of borderless technocrats and pious “elite” stuffed shirts who hate Trump.
This may be a momentous time for the world, when the postwar educational system for selecting and training elites is breaking down. But for Brooks, the world collapses to a narcissistic personal story about his youth and the petty social rivalries that apparently still motivate him. In person, some know that Brooks playacts what he imagines a Whig patrician might have been like. He’s aping William Buckley, who himself thought he was someone else. To many elite conservatives and liberals, their opinions are little more than lifestyle choices, markers of status aspiration. A pundit with a lifelong identity crisis is lecturing readers on class and ethnic neuroses.
Brooks makes no mention of the fact that the West hasn’t really had a meritocratic elite anyway, for at least a generation. The nepotism of our time, affirmative action, is in many ways much worse than the milder type practiced by the pre-1960s WASP establishment. That nepotism at least selected for men with good manners who came from families with long experiences in public life, with independent bases of support, and with identities outside of state control.
In The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom bemoans the fact that so few or none of his students came from families with long traditions of devotion to the republic. That is, there’s a value to having a hereditary patrician class that not even a true meritocracy could approximate. America, with its selection by race and gender, is in many ways that much worse off. The dimwits elevated by affirmative action are without doubt much stupider than the WASP old boys Brooks maligns. To make up for it, they have no identity apart from that instilled in them by the vapid ideology of our time, and no loyalties to anything but whoever sustains their paltry salary and makeshift self-image.
The purpose of meritocracy was to prevent occasional and unfortunate discrimination against men like Richard Feynman. Instead, we get Sonya Sotomayor and Neil deGrasse Tyson. In politics, we get sorority creatures Marie Harf and Barack Obama, a man apparently assisted by affirmative action at every stage of his life. Whether this has anything to do with the people’s and the youth’s loss of faith in Brooks’ own generation is something he leaves unexplored.
It may be unfair to compare our provincial strivers to the elite that ran America in the 1950s. That was arguably America’s golden age. But the Madeleine Albrights, the Hillary Clintons, Paul Ryans, the Evan McMullins don’t come off very well even against the dictators and oligarchs who run cesspools in the Third World. Compare Hillary Clinton to Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. He was brutally sodomized and murdered as a result of her intervention in Libya, something she later gloated about on camera. This gruesome sacrifice confirmed people like Clinton and Samantha Power in their self-image as powerful, competent, and good. But how do they objectively compare, in raw ability, to someone like Gaddafi?
Gaddafi was born the son of a Bedouin goat herder in a desert tent, in 1942, only five years Hillary Clinton’s senior. He came from an obscure Berber clan but, handsome and intelligent, he excelled at school and university as much as any Western meritocrat might. Later, as a mere captain in the Libyan army, he came to power in a military coup in 1969 at the early age of twenty-seven. At the same age in 1974, Hillary Clinton was failing the D.C. bar exam. That year she got dismissed as a staffer in the Watergate investigation for unethical conduct. She moved to Arkansas to become the wife of philandering Bill Clinton, and to begin her tedious crawl to the top of the weedpile known as American “meritocracy.”
It’s easy to condemn Gaddafi as a blood-loving tyrant, which he was. But since he’s been killed, Libya has become a failed state, as he said it would. He was apparently the only thing keeping that country together, in relative peace and order, for more than forty years. Right or wrong, that’s hard to pull off. Now, as a result of Hillary Clinton’s imbecile intervention—cheered on by most establishment conservatives—Libya has experienced arguably greater bloodshed than under Gaddafi’s long rule; it has become a training ground for various jihadist groups. Its slave markets are bustling with migrants from West Africa. “Torture, rape, and slavery” is how Oxfam describes their fate in Libya. The migrations that are destabilizing Europe—encouraged by Hillary Clinton’s role model, Angela Merkel—are flowing chiefly through Libya’s ports. Gaddafi predicted that, as well.
You don’t have to celebrate tyrants like Gaddafi, Assad, or Saddam Hussein to notice how much smarter and more worldly they look in comparison to the West’s senile elite. When Trump argued last year in the primaries that America and Iraq would have been better off if Saddam Hussein was still in charge there, he was speaking common sense. The spokesmouths of GOP orthodoxy, men like Steve Schmidt, Bill Kristol or Karl Rove, who don’t understand their own country, were sure that kind of talk would be the end of Trump. Veterans and military voters in South Carolina agreed with him, and he carried almost every county in the primary. Normal people know tyrants are bad, but they also know our elite is cretinous. Saddam’s or Gaddafi’s lynching, indirectly, at the hands of middlebrow bunglers like Paul Wolfowitz or Samantha Power was a case of the better being annihilated by the worse.
Nothing has harmed the feelings and self-image of America’s cutrate “elite” more than Trump’s victory. They aren’t hurt because it proves the people don’t love them—they despise the people—but because he harms the delusion of merit and striving on which they built their identity and pride. This isn’t about Trump, but about failure. There is no argument against manifest failure: a surgeon who botches thirty operations in a row gets canned. Ruling classes that start wars of choice and lose have historically faced even worse things. David Brooks, Hillary Clinton, the whole carnival of dwarves, should be glad that so far they’ve only had to contend with relatively polite men like Trump.