Status Games

Lots to like from Prof. Glenn Reynolds a/k/a/ InstaPundit (a higher brow version of Jon Stewart, but from the Right):

Donald Trump has been president for a month now, and it’s been months more since he was elected. But the division over him, and his presidency, hasn’t settled down. If anything, it’s gotten worse. But why?

[…]

As I’ve pondered this, I’ve gone back to Tyler Cowen’s statement: “Occasionally the real force behind a political ideology is the subconsciously held desire that a certain group of people should not be allowed to rise in relative status.

Politics is in large part a status game with winners and losers. Trump and his ilk were not supposed to be allowed to play, let alone win. Everyone can vote because democracy . . . but govern?! Let’s leave that to our credentialed betters. Trump went ahead and made his own better club and the management committee is pissed.

An election’s turn might see some moving to the private sector — say as K street lobbyists or high-priced lawyers or consultants — while a different batch of meritocrats take their positions in government. But even so, their status remained unchallenged: They were always the insiders, the elite, the winners, regardless of which team came out ahead in the elections.

The one thing the Establishment agrees on is that they are the scientists and the rest of the country are the experiment. When the experiment goes awry, it just means that it’s time for the scientists to switch places with each other, right? Maybe not so much:

But as Nicholas Ebserstadt notes . . . For whatever reasons, the Great American Escalator, which had lifted successive generations of Americans to ever higher standards of living and levels of social well-being, broke down around then — and broke down very badly.

“The warning lights have been flashing, and the klaxons sounding, for more than a decade and a half. But our pundits and prognosticators and professors and policymakers, ensconced as they generally are deep within the bubble, were for the most part too distant from the distress of the general population to see or hear it.”

Well, now they’ve heard it, and they’ve also heard that a lot of Americans resent the meritocrats’ insulation from what’s happening elsewhere, especially as America’s unfortunate record over the past couple of decades, whether in economics, in politics, or in foreign policy, doesn’t suggest that the “meritocracy” is overflowing with, you know, actual merit.

Eventually people get tired of being a social engineering experiment for their self-appointed betters.

The betters have not taken it well, confirming what ordinary folks have felt all along:

In the United States, the result has been Trump. In Britain, the result was Brexit. In both cases, the allegedly elite — who are supposed to be cool, considered, and  above the vulgar passions of the masses — went more or less crazy. From conspiracy theories (it was the Russians!) to bizarre escape fantasies (A Brexit vote redo! A military coup to oust Trump!) the cognitive elite suddenly didn’t seem especially elite, or for that matter particularly cognitive.

In fact, while America was losing wars abroad and jobs at home, elites seemed focused on things that were, well, faintly ridiculous. As Richard Fernandez tweeted: “The elites lost their mojo by becoming absurd. It happened on the road between cultural appropriation and transgender bathrooms.” It was fatal: “People believe from instinct. The Roman gods became ridiculous when the Roman emperors did. PC is the equivalent of Caligula’s horse.”

It’s hard to solve market failures, human imperfection, selfish, irrational and impulsive behavior and general stupidity, when you’re *surprise* just as afflicted as anyone else.

The rage of our privileged class is thus about loss of status. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t dangerous. Nations have blown up over less . . . .  ‘If Trump is overthrown by the Deep State in a year, he’s unlikely to be the last. If neither faction will suffer itself to be governed by the other, whoever succeeds Trump can expect his term to be short . . . That will be good news for the Barbarians, waiting at the edge of the Baltics, in the South China Sea, and on Europe’s borders, ready to move in. Rome’s Third Century crisis did not end well. The new normal was not a return to the Golden Age, but the end of it.’

Strong nations can fail when their leadership class, or a part of it, succumbs to pettiness, and places its narrow factional interests above those of the nation. Americans have often assumed that we are immune to such things. Perhaps earlier Americas, with a more disciplined, more patriotic ruling class, were. But today’s America is not. Beware.

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