To burn it down, or not burn it down–that is the question. And increasingly, against my better nature, I’m starting to think the answer is incendiarism.
Why my flirtation with unbridled anger? It’s simple, really: Elite contempt for the hoi polloi has reached a fever pitch. Consider events over the past few weeks.
After much hand-wringing, the Brexit vote failed to topple the world economy. But that hasn’t stopped the elites from expressing their disdain over the little people taking back their borders. In a scathing piece for Foreign Policy titled “It’s Time for the Elites to Rise Up Against the Ignorant Masses,” writer James Traub openly calls for the crushing of the working class. “One of the most brazen features of the Brexit vote was the utter repudiation of the bankers and economists and Western heads of state who warned voters against the dangers of a split with the European Union,” Traub, the son of the former chairman of Bloomingdale’s, says sorrowfully.
Emily Badger of The Washington Post concurs, writing “Brexit is a reminder that some things just shouldn’t be decided by referendum.” Columnists and opiners in a variety of publications have taken turns denouncing the small-minded Leave voters, each employing clever metaphors to say the same thing: The people are too stupid for politics.
The contempt is not dissimilar to the bitchfest that is Trump opposition. Not content to take potshots at Teflon Donald, some smug critics have taken to excoriating his pea-brained supporters. Jonathan Chait of New York magazine explained Trump phenomenology by surmising, “The Republican Party turns out to be filled with idiots. Far more of them than anybody expected.” National Review’s Kevin Williamson infamously referred to wage-class Trumpites as white trash so trashy it doesn’t deserve to be picked up. “The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible,” he pronounced, with the grace of a utilitarian Maoist.
And you wonder why middle-of-the-road Americans are so damn angry. In the face of such open mockery, why shouldn’t they be? The coastal high-earners take great pleasure in ridiculing Flyover country, which is largely comprised of red state Bible-believers.
Donald Trump, despite being a moneyed Manhattanite, gets it. He hasn’t been afraid to reach out to the disgruntled masses and proclaim “I can hear you!” There were plenty of remarkable moments during the GOP primary debates. But the one that stood out the most was Trump’s open repudiation of the Republican Party’s tendency to smile while being whipped. When asked what he thought about South Carolina governor Nikki Haley’s admonishment to ignore the “siren call of the angriest voices,” Trump rejected the plea for peace. “I am very angry because our country is being run horribly and I will gladly accept the mantle of anger,” he declared to a cheering audience.
Trump’s embrace of vexation doesn’t sit well with cushy conservative intellectuals. When emotions get high, our political betters are the first to warn against rage-fueled outbursts. “We will not gain the White House if we are not going to be happy warriors,” archcuckservative Erick Erickson wrote last August. “Nothing pisses off the left more than a conservative who’s enjoying himself,” said NR’s Jonah Goldberg. Ronald Reagan once ended a speech by issuing the command: “let us go forth with good cheer and stout hearts-happy warriors out to seize back a country and a world to freedom.”
The “be a happy warrior” sentiment is cutesy, no doubt, and it has a Christian vibe to it. It also has the useful function of making the Right appear non-threatening, even though leftists are more prone to violence. But make no mistake about it: Liberals have been using anger effectively for 50 years. They have no compunction about losing their cool. In an ‘08 campaign stop, then-candidate Barack Obama told the crowd, “I need you to go out and talk to your friends and talk to your neighbors…I want you to argue with them and get in their face.”
Can you imagine Paul Ryan telling voters to sloppily scream with abandon at Democrats?
With all these philippics from on high, what’s a non-elitist to do? Grinning while being kicked in the teeth doesn’t lessen the pain. And being winsome is no way to combat what Irving Kristol called the “unappeasable indignation” of the Left. So perhaps some anger is necessary to push back against forces that won’t stop until the last conservative is hanged with the entrails of the last patriot.
I should say a few words of hesitation, however. Political anger has its limits–and its dangers. Taken too far, grievance can transform into Defarge-like chaos. If it’s internalized, it becomes unhinged solipsism. “The prestige of anger in our politics has grown disproportionately to anger’s justifications and exceeded them, so that voting appears to have become more an explosion of feeling than an expression of thought,” Leon Wieseltier recently wrote.
American society is so prone to extremes, it’s important to not let anger completely overcome reason. The founders never wanted elections to be a game of passion. They should be barometers that measure the national spirit, but are still limited by constitutional restraint.
One way or another, the political class is going to learn that their countrymen matter more than liberal ideology–even if they hate it.