Disdain, Despair, and Democracy

Contempt for commoners leads to revolution.

Peggy Noonan is one of America's more interesting political intellectuals.  She is, without a doubt, a card-carrying member of the Republican elite: she got her start writing speeches for Ronald Reagan, and has pontificated on the passing scene for many decades.

Like her late lamented boss, she has a nearly unique gift: even while being an elite, and living like one, she still can perceive and understand the feelings of normal people.  Not all the time, of course; she's not immune from the constant drumbeat of the liberal media, any more than Reagan was.  Most of the time, though, she eventually figures it out, and usually far before the rest of her exalted peers.

Which is why Noonan's recent Wall Street Journal article is so fascinating: It lays out, in terms so plain that even the most benighted RINO can understand, just what is going on in our country.

Both sides, the elites and the non-elites, sense that things are stuck.

The people hate the elites, which is not new, and very American. The elites have no faith in the people, which, actually, is new. Everything is stasis. Then Donald Trump comes, like a rock thrown through a showroom window, and the molecules start to move.

Scragged has been saying much the same thing for a long time, but sadly, we were never Ronald Reagan's speechwriter so we don't have Noonan's reach.  Thankfully, she's hit the nail on the head.

It is, as she observes, nothing new for Americans to despise their elites.  That's almost intentional design by our Founders: they felt that healthy skepticism of rulers was absolutely essential to democracy, and from the earliest days Americans have reveled in cutting their would-be masters down to size.

Through most America's history, though, ordinary people may have been contemptuous of their "betters," but they didn't really have to listen to them much.  Americans could live their lives without kowtowing, and if they wanted to bad enough, without any higher interaction at all.  Daniel Boone famously moved further into the frontier every time he felt the need for more "elbow room," which basically meant whenever he had more than a handful of neighbors within a day's walk.

That's not true anymore, and ordinary Americans are coming to grips with the strong feeling that what they think and want makes no difference anymore - that regardless of who they vote for, they'll be lied to and the elites will go on doing whatever they want to do.  That's why the enthusiasm, all across the political spectrum, for rank outsiders feared or even hated by the party mandarins.  Both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump want to tear their respective parties down to the ground and start over; the base of both parties is desperately eager for them to do this.   The more the establishments or the media bash Mr. Trump or Mr. Sanders, the more the voters love them.

This much should be fairly obvious.  Noonan's insight about the attitude of elites is more profound - and enlightening to us, given that, sadly, we ourselves have yet to achieve the same entree to elite status as she.

From the founding of this country, America's leaders have had a healthy respect for the good sense and judgement of the American people.  In Federalist 68, Alexander Hamilton emphasized the importance of the common people's involvement in the selection of the President - though at one remove, through the office of the Electoral College:

It was desirable that the sense of the people should operate in the choice of the person to whom so important a trust was to be confided. This end will be answered by committing the right of making it, not to any preestablished body, but to men chosen by the people for the special purpose, and at the particular conjuncture.

Thomas Jefferson was particularly famous for reposing his trust in common people without any special academic training in the law or anything else:

State a moral case to a ploughman and a professor, and the former will decide it as well, and often better than the latter, because he has not been led astray by artificial rules.  [emphasis added]

Within living memory, this same view held true: William F. Buckley, about as far from a common man as it's possible to get, famously said:

I am obliged to confess I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.

We'd prefer the selection be made from the phone book of suburban Dallas, say, or rural New Hampshire, rather than the corrupt and exclusively liberal metropolis of Boston, but Mr. Buckley's point is still valid.

There probably aren't very many people of Mr. Buckley's class who'd agree with that sentiment today.  Our elites have come to have, and to express, total contempt for ordinary citizens.  Most famously, Mr. Obama complained that 

...they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

Why would the oh-so-elite Mr. Obama want to be ruled by the choices of such stupid, unenlightened, retrograde peons?  He wouldn't, nor would anyone else in Washington, which is why they work so hard to overwhelm us with foreigners who are more used to doing what they are told by their rulers.

This is why conservatives in particular are so enamored with Donald Trump.  The Donald is hardly a paragon of morality; he makes no pretence whatsoever of being a religious man.  He readily admits to "working the system," in fact he boasts of it.  He is impolite, rude, uncultured, and uncivil.  Americans of both parties are lapping it up because finally, finally, there's a famous person willing to throw the lies of the elites back in their faces!

Bernie Sanders does the same thing only not so colorfully, which may very well lead him to victory over the boundlessly corrupt and compromised Hillary Clinton.  What unites both Bernie and The Donald is - unlike the other famous names, they seem to actually believe in the American people.

Is this faith well judged?  We aren't entirely sure.  But it's certainly worth a try, and vastly preferable to the revolution we'll eventually get if ordinary people continue to be ignored.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Partisanship.
Reader Comments

Yes, and this is further reinforced by #2 coming along right behind Trump - Ben Carson. Another guy totally outside the R establishment and yet he's trouncing career pols that have ten times his experience.

Carly Fiorina likewise - she's the only one who has surged from the lower to upper bracket in polling. Another one with zero experience.

All the guys with the longest R pedigree (Graham, Perry, Walker, Christie) are all sinking fast or stagnating at best. Cruz is the only career pol who has picked up any steam, and the R's don't like him much since his message tends to be loud and messy.

So... How do the R's respond? By calling out for Romney, an establishment poster child, to save them:


It's not that they're stupid - they hear Scragged's & Noonan's message loud and clear. It's that they're fighting a war with conservatives. They'd rather suppress conservatism, lose the election and keep their own power, then allow conservatives to reboot the party.

September 1, 2015 8:07 AM
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