Over at USA Today, Glenn Reynolds argues that America’s credentialed class—currently rending garments over every utterance of Donald Trump—underestimated just how bad things were before the Donald took office:
To the privileged and well-educated Americans living in their “bicoastal bastions,” things seemed to be going quite well, even as the rest of the country fell farther and farther behind. But, writes Eberstadt: “It turns out that the year 2000 marks a grim historical milestone of sorts for our nation. 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.” […]
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.”
The basic division in American politics today is not over the merits of President Trump. Many of those who voted for him believed that he lacked the moral grounding and gravitas that great Presidents must ultimately draw on. The division is between those who think that, before Trump, things were going just fine and the American elite was doing an excellent job and those who blame the rise of Trump on the failures and blindness of the so-called “meritocratic elite” who, they would argue, have been running the country into the ground.
In foreign policy, the United States has had two failed presidencies in a row. Our grand strategy of domesticating China into the world order by offering it an unprecedented opportunity to grow rich through low-wage manufacturing exports has hurt American workers without democratizing or reconciling China. Presidents Bush and Obama thought that the democratization of the Middle East would and could solve the terrorism problem—and so did their degreed and esteemed advisers and the commentariat.
Domestically, our leadership elite has watched passively as infrastructure decays, state and local pension systems accumulate unsustainable debt loads, the national debt inexorably climbs, and the social capital of the nation erodes.
There was no sign from the Clinton campaign that anybody understood that the nation’s path was unsustainable. The Clinton campaign was about “more of the same.”
The Trump voters were right that the nation needs change and that the “best and the brightest” are failing the nation the way they did during the Vietnam War; the Clinton voters were right that on the whole the Trump team lacks the skills and the temperament to run the country. Glenn Reynolds is right that this isn’t just another example of partisan gridlock. It is a danger to the stability of the United States political system.