I am not a frequent listener of talk radio, though I readily concede that conservative talk show commentator Rush Limbaugh frequently offers pungent and even prescient criticism of the American ruling class.
I was especially struck by a recent observation.
Speaking at the Trump rally in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Limbaugh observed that the hatred associated with the 45th president stems from boundless jealousy among our political class, haunted by the knowledge that not one of them — not Biden, not even the sainted Barack — can approximate the Trump’s star appeal.
Limbaugh’s observation was spot on, though I would argue that this observation, insightful as it is, doesn’t go deep enough.
The jealousy and enmity for Donald Trump run much deeper. And I’m convinced that this liberal disdain stems from a deep well of narcissism, which is reflected in the way that liberals — elite liberals, at least — both view themselves and their place within the American cultural and political context.
At the risk of oversimplifying the issue, I would even go as far to say that liberalism has always been less about ideals, more about perpetuating an image: one in which the bold and elite-educated beautiful — the heirs of FDR, JFK and RFK — are entitled by birth and intellect to be held in breathless veneration by the masses.
American liberalism has been bound up in this narrative for most of the past century. It started with FDR, a handsome, polished scion of the American ruling class who, despite his physical infirmity, selflessly marshaled the slumbering masses toward a greater vision of themselves and the country. But the young, telegenic Irish-American hero, John F. Kennedy, brought this narrative to the peak of refinement. In fact, an aspiring professional historian could write a dissertation about how Kennedy’s assassination and subsequent martyrdom has driven this liberal narrative.
There has been a deep hunger among liberals ever since to find someone, some charismatic, Kennedyesque figure to modernize and carry forth this lofty narrative. A new movie scheduled for release on Nov. 21 explores the stellar rise and ignominious fall of the presumptive heir of JFK’s mantle, Gary Hart. But a string of other successful and unsuccessful Democratic contenders have also competed to fill this void: Bill Clinton, John Kerry, and John Edwards. Once upon a time, a few people even compared Jimmy Carter to JFK.
That is why the recent political phenomenon of Betomania is very instructive. Indeed, it’s not all that surprising that Beto O’Roarke, notwithstanding this week’s defeat, already is being touted as a hot Democratic presidential prospect in 2020. He underscores how far a tall, lean frame, an Irish phenotype, an Ivy League diploma, and a reasonably aristocratic pedigree will take you in modern America, of course, providing that you’re willing to subject yourself all the outrageous indignities and misfortunes of modern America politics.
O’Roarke, in fact, seems right out of central casting: a fourth-generation Irish American possessing an almost an uncanny physical resemblance to the late Robert F. Kennedy — a dynast from an old El Paso political family that can even point to modest links to the Kennedy clan. Even better, he hails from the deepest reaches of red America in a region of the country likely on the verge of being flipped purple, if not blue. And to top it off, he’s nicknamed Beto, which affords something akin to an ersatz Hispanic identity at a time when ethnic ties to rising demographic groups are at a premium.
Indeed, we’re likely to see many different permutations of Betomania in an era when liberalism, beset with disillusionment and division, seems more bereft of ideological substance than ever its history. In such a context, form will always trump substance.
The changes in American elite education that have occurred over the last few decades will only contribute to this. Earlier American elites such as FDR and JFK arguably felt a sense of noblesse oblige, partly stemming from a sense of guilt that their status was largely unearned. Way back then, elite universities on both sides of the Atlantic functioned as extensions of Eton, Harrow and Groton. FDR, described as a man of “third class intellect but first-class temperament,” was typical of his class.
Yet, elite education has undergone a sea change in recently years, becoming far more meritocratic, far more SAT-driven. And the people who pass through these elite institutions now fit a wholly different set of criteria, conforming very closely to the products described by William Dereciewicz in Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite.
Having clawed their way up to these to these stratospheric heights, they expect a payoff. Even more than the old guilt-ridden WASP elites, they regard themselves as people worthy of deep respect, if not a healthy degree of adulation. Many regard themselves as anointed by genetics to rule and to think on every else’s behalf. And, oddly enough, this has only worked to reinforce the old elite liberal narrative. Granted, many of them are not as poised and physically attractive as Roosevelts or Kennedys, but the old liberal elite narrative nonetheless resounds among them.
If you doubt this: Consider what is unfolding even now in Silicon Valley as tech moguls arrogate to themselves the task of reengineering of a basic tenet of American liberty, free speech, simply on the basis that they have conceived something better. Never mind the corpus of judicial rulings on free speech that have been handed down over the past quarter of a millennium; they know better.
Simply put, the liberal narrative is undergoing significant revision, becoming even more virulently narcissistic as a new generation of meritocrats rise to assume the place of older elites.
Back to Trump. He’s not one of them. He openly mocks their pretensions to power. Even worse, he even has inspired millions of ordinary Americans to turn their backs on them, the anointed, the heirs of this lofty narrative.
Small wonder why they hate him.