The recent vote in Great Britain and the primary successes of Mr Trump have been attributed to the rise of populism and a rejection of “the elite”. I understand populism – I can Google it. I am unclear what the commentators mean when voters are taking back their countries from the elites. The meaning of elites cannot be Googled because there are too many alternative meanings. From the context of the complaints, the elites could be 1) the very rich, 2) politicians serving more than one term, or 3) well-educated folks.
I agree that economic disparity is a serious problem that seems to be growing. What bothers me most is when there is a connection between wealth and politics. When wealth provides the opportunity to shape political decisions or to influence public opinion through manipulation of access to information, there is great potential for self-sustaining and accelerating inequity. I agree with Lawrence Lessig in arguing that all politicians become the pawns of the wealthy in the continual pursuit of funds to support re-election.
I have a very different reaction to scape goating the well educated. What is the logic here? I first noticed this in reactions to President Obama when his speaking prowess was somehow argued to be a liability. Having a skill most do not press was somehow a problem. In what arena do we prefer mediocre to skilled? The simplification of the complex will not make problems go away. Sometimes complex is just complex.
I blame the degradation of news by the all day news channels. It makes no sense to me that you can find a source that feeds your biases and assumes you are becoming better informed. I am not certain what to call this. It is part entertainment. It is part propaganda. It is mostly a simplification of the truth mixed with a battle for viewers and ad dollars.
If you are unable or unwilling to understand this, you are contributing to the problem. Call my argument elitist if you will, but at least think about your own behavior and see if what I describe does not apply.
I believe the science of climate change is real. Nearly every scientist who studies the topic agrees with me. The guy at the bar may not, but his information intake is limited to reading the headlines on the papers available in the grocery store check out line. I do recommend this literature in preference to Fox “news”.
I believe we have a moral and practical obligation to make an effort to support those in need. We cannot pretend we a progressive society and ignore the great inequities that exist around us. We have contributed to the perpetuation and growth of these differences and should not assume we have had not benefited from unearned advantages.
I believe globalization is the future and denying this reality means you are willing to accept higher costs for goods manufactured locally. The individuals complaining about imports are likely still shopping in big box stores to purchase lower cost goods. Recognize your own denial.
I believe immigration – legal or illegal – brings talent, motivation, and labor into this country. We reject the history of how the U.S. was populated. And we ignore the reality that most of us do not want to pick fruit or hoe sugar beets in 90 degree temps, gut hogs or turkeys so we can purchase cheap meat, or clean toilets in hotels. We ignore the reality that scholars and scientists coming to the U.S. have been willing to study advanced math, basic sciences, and computer science rather than getting the MBA.
I believe there is a tendancy when the world is complex and changing to romantacize a past that never was. Read Toffler’s the Third Wave for an early explanation of how this works. If that is too elite for you and you are an older white guy, take a careful look at your own life experiences. I spent enough Saturday mornings scooping the manure (not what the material was called, but I am trying to be more cultured) out of hog houses to want to return to the life of a gentleman farmer. I do not have to rely on my Ph.D. to arrive at this decision.