Opinion

How conservative elites disdain working-class Republicans

Why do conservative elites harbor such condescension for working-class Trump voters?

The conservative movement has a lot of ideas for improving the life of a typical coke-sniffer in Westport, Connecticut. Let's call that man Jeffrey.

The movement wants to lower Jeffrey's capital gains taxes. It also wants to lower corporate taxation, which intersects with his interests at several points. It wants to free up dollars marked for Social Security so they can be handed, temporarily, to Jeffrey's fund-manager in-law, who works in nearby Darien. The movement has sometimes proposed giving Jeffrey a voucher to offset some of the cost of sending his daughter to school at Simon's Rock. If his household income falls below $400,000, Marco Rubio would give him a generous tax credit for each of his offspring. The movement also constantly hectors universities and media outlets to consider ideological diversity. Jeffrey reads these agitations and thinks of his libertarian-leaning daughter.

And, if Jeffrey gives some money to conservative causes, figures in the movement will at least pretend to cheerfully listen to him as he says that the problem with Republicans is all these religious wackos and their pro-life nonsense. That stuff bothers his daughter. Privately, many of them would like to take Jeffrey's advice.

The conservative movement has next to zero ideas for improving the life of the typical opioid dependent who lives in Garbutt, New York, outside of Rochester. Let's call him Mike.

Maybe they will make a child tax credit refundable against payroll taxes for Mike. He could get a voucher for a private school, but there aren't many around and he can't make up the difference in tuition costs anyway. In truth, the conservative movement has more ideas for making Mike's life more desperate, like cutting off the Social Security Disability check he's been shamefacedly receiving. It's fibromyalgia fraud, probably. Movement spokesmen might consent to a relaxation of laws against gambling near Mike's congressional district, so that Mike can get a job dealing at a blackjack table. More likely Mike ends up on the wrong side of the table, losing a portion of the SSD check to Sheldon Adelson. Finally, the movement's favorite presidential candidate would like to put American armed forces ahead of a Sunni army outside of Homs, Syria, to fight Bashar al-Assad, ISIS, and al Nusra simultaneously. Russia too, if they don't respect a no-fly zone. Mike's daughter will be among the first round of American women to get a draft card. Mike reads this news and thinks, "Your momma wears combat boots" used to be an insult.

If the conservative movement has any advice for Mike, it's to move out of Garbutt and maybe "learn computers." Any investments he made in himself previously are for naught. People rooted in their hometowns? That sentimentalism is for effete readers of Edmund Burke. Join the hyper-mobile world.

And if Mike runs into a conservative reporter outside a Donald Trump rally, that reporter will then take to the pages of his conservative news outlet and talk about Mike the way a family talks about a distant dementia-afflicted uncle on his deathbed in a jurisdiction where assisted suicide is legal. Officially there's some concern expressed for the poor man's sanity. But the undertone of the remarks comes across as "Couldn't he just die already? We've got important things to attend to (in Syria, of course)." Who has time for trade protectionism?

A recent example of the official right's condescension toward the suckers in Garbutt or Chicopee appeared in National Review Online last week, written by the whip-smart Kevin Williamson. For Williamson, the Donald Trump phenomenon is just one of these periodic rebellions of Buchananites in the party. Poor fellows, they need to be put down, without concessions.

The Buchanan boys are economically and socially frustrated white men who wish to be economically supported by the federal government without enduring the stigma of welfare dependency. [National Review]

Brave. Change the words "federal government" to "conservative billionaires" and "direct mail marks" and he could be describing the conservative movement itself. Like Sir Edmund Spenser writing on the wild Gaels of Ireland, Williamson accuses the poor savages of confusing benevolent administration with a conspiracy to humiliate and dispossess them. Where would they even find evidence that free trade has hammered their life prospects even as it granted them cheap plastic containers at Walmart? Or that immigration might be depressing their wages?

After excoriating these working-class Mikes — who may make up perhaps one fifth of the Republican Party — for playing patty-cake with white nationalists, Williamson offers some advice to the movement:

Conservatives should continue to appeal to these voters, addressing the better angels of their nature with policy solutions to their problems, which are not imaginary. Confronting the stupidity and snobbery that holds in contempt those Americans who do work that does not require a university degree would be welcome, too, and Marco Rubio was well-advised to do so in his disquisition on welders and philosophers.

But it is unlikely that such voters can ever be entirely assimilated into the mainstream of American conservatism, the universalism of which provides them no Them — and they want a Them, badly. [National Review]

You see, they suffer from Them and Us thinking, unlike us. The jerks.

I agree that Trump's policies are insufficient, and I doubt Trump would be loyal to them anyway. But Williamson offers no suggestions either. He knows there are none that fit into the straightjacket orthodoxy of conservatism any more. All we can offer Mike is a gesture at Marco Rubio's kind words for people like him. Let Mike eat tax credits. And after we call him a crypto-Nazi, he should come out and do the right thing: Turn out and help Marco Rubio ease the great burdens on the Jeffreys of the world.

Time to think harder.

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