Southern-Style Self-Flagellation

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Alabama-Capitol

Alabama Capitol, Montgomery

Wayne Flynt, Auburn University emeritus professor of history,  has cultivated a reputation as Alabama’s progressive conscience. He is a prodigious writer who has published some 13 books on the history of Alabama and the South.

Predictably, he has weighed in on the upcoming Alabama Senate election, offering less than a savory view of Republican nominee Roy Moore.

Moore, Flynt contends, “represents the old Alabama of Robert E. Lee Ewell, of lynching and the sexual abuse of women.”

“Law to Moore is merely an instrument of exclusion and oppression, whether of women, teenage girls, African Americans, immigrants, Jews, Muslims, or homosexuals,” he contends.

I’m not surprised that Flynt regards Moore as the worst threat to Alabama’s reputation since Eugene “Bull” Conner.  But I do find it slightly irritating whenever Flynt raises these issues as an excuse to engage in another round of self-flagellation over what he perceives to be Alabama’s wretched political and cultural legacy, one for which Alabamians are obligated to atone.

I’ve never liked this sackcloth-and-ashes approach and that goes for countless other Alabamians.

I am far from a scion of the old South.  I come from simple old yeoman Southern stock, particularly on my father’s side. My paternal line and much of my maternal one were among the thousands of lumbers – desperately poor whites – who poured into this impoverished region in the early 1800’s simply because they had no place else to go.

Alabama was not only encumbered with legions of struggling poor whites but also with a slave economy that maintained a predominant hold in the Southern half of the state – one that collapsed after the close of the Civil War. Essentially we are talking about a deeply bifurcated state, culturally, politically and economically, that has been digging itself out of poverty and relative backwardness – imposed, incidentally by the Yankee equivalent of the British Raj – since the end of the Civil War.

One of the only socially redeeming factors on the Alabama frontier was evangelical religion, which dragged so many of our forebears away from a life of gambling, drinking and bare-knuckle fighting. This old religion, largely imported from New England, carried a strong Calvinist hue, and it carved out a place in the hearts of many Alabamians, even among apostates like me. It is deeply embedded in our DNA – as much as Catholicism is in Irish cultural DNA.

It’s not surprising that many of us identify with Moore’s public avowal of religious faith and propriety.

Alabama, like every other state in this Union, evolved out of a unique set of circumstances. And our politics and culture reflect many effects of that development.

Personally, there are many aspects of New England society that I find appallingly irritating and abhorrent and that have adversely affected the course of this country, especially after these tawdry shits became the cultural and economic hegemons after the war. Yet, they have enjoyed a free pass, largely because they remain our national and cultural hegemons.

Southerners, on the other hand, remain a special focus of animus among these people and their spiritual and intellectual progeny on the Left Coast. That is not all that surprising: As the world’s first propositional nation, Americans have always required a focus of animus, which the South has supplied, however unwittingly, since this country’s founding.

Consequently, every other ethnic group and region is afforded a pass for bad behavior stemming from its cultural inheritance EXCEPT the South, despite our region’s having inherited a cultural legacy with both good and bad elements like every other ethnic group and region in this nation and throughout the entire planet.

And honestly, given the unfortunate set of circumstances that fate has meted out to this region beginning with its initial settlement, why should we expect anything to have turned out differently – really?

Writer Jim Goad has argued – convincingly, I would contend – that Southerner and other poor Back Country whites provide elite American whites with a basis for conveniently passing off their collective guilt and insecurities.

I’ve grown weary of  this – and, quite frankly, it explains why I insist on flying only an Alabama flag on my property. It’s hard to think of myself as an American when this region of the country is treated as the national hind teat and relegated to sitting on a stool of everlasting repentance.

Yes, Professor Flynt, you have every right to bemoan the legacy of his native state – that’s your First Amendment right – but I and tens of thousands of Alabamians are tired of it.

An Alternative George Wallace

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George-Wallace-Portrait1An image of George Wallace turned up on my Facebook news feed yesterday. Seven years ago, I posted a photo along with speculation about how George Wallace’s political career would have turned out of he had somehow managed to chart a different course during the segregationist era. He was a moderate Democrat at heart with no serious animus toward blacks and no seriously vested interest in segregation – at least, no more than the average white Southerner of the time.

I’ve written many times about the Wallace legacy – I find him one of the most fascinating and enigmatic political figures in Southern and U.S. history – and I’ll probably keep thinking and writing about him for the rest of my life.  He was not only a gifted politician but also an uncharacteristically intelligent one.  He was also a visionary who transformed American politics despite coming from what was considered by pundits to be a provincial backwater.

He started out no conservative. His former close friend and fellow University of Alabama law student, U.S. Judge Frank Johnson, once related that arguing with Wallace essentially amounted to debating a New Deal socialist.

As a student at the University of Alabama, Wallace was an outsider.  His idol was Carl Elliott, a wonder kid from my native Alabama county of Franklin who worked his way through Alabama and eventually was elected student body president, beating the student establishment know as “The Machine,” which exists to this day.   Elliot is remembered as one of Alabama’s most progressive-leaning Alabama congressmen.

Wallace was a Democratic Party stalwart who refused to bolt the 1948 Democratic Convention over the party’s proposed civil rights plank in the party’s platform. As an Alabama circuit judge, he cultivated a reputation for affording black litigants courteous treatment in his courtroom. His bitter defeat in 1958 at the hands of John Patterson changed all of this, driving him to become an ardent segregationist.

In a very real sense he sold his political soul for the sake of political expediency.

I’ve always wondered how differently the Wallace legacy would have been if our 45th Alabama governor had somehow managed not to carry the segregationist legacy.

Moreover, I have also wondered about how differently Wallace’s fortunes may have turned out if he had avoided an assassination attempt. Would he have brokered some sort of John Connally-style arrangement with Nixon, perhaps even serving in a cabinet post? Could he have prevented Jimmy Carter’s assent in 1976? All of these historical what if’s are the grounds of lots of fascinating historical speculation.

Many American Republics Instead of One?

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Thomas-Jefferson2

Thomas Jefferson

The American Thinker recently painted a disturbing picture of the American future.  We are embroiled in a Civil War – for now, a cold one, though one that bears many hallmarks of one that eventually could run hot.

And from my perspective as a conservative, the left seems implacably opposed to compromise.  And why shouldn’t it be?  They control most of the institutions that define cultural hegemony:  the mainstream media, the arts, popular entertainment and higher education, not to mention, elements of the so-called Deep State.   As I have argued in this forum many times, a Democratic victory last year would have sealed its victory.

The rancorous divisions in this country have prompted some thoughts about an observation Jefferson offered throughout the post-revolutionary period of American history. He presumed that this continent was too big to encompass one American nation. He expected that settlers, as they spanned across broad American continent, would establish several republics, though all of them would share mutual affinities.

That was not to be.  As it turned out, our forebears essentially hewed a kind of middle way between the ideals of Jefferson and his arch ideological rival, Alexander Hamilton. We have tended to place great emphasis on the Jeffersonian fixation with individual liberties, while tacking more closely to the Hamiltonian ideal of a centralized federal union.

And I wonder: Could the case be made that this push toward centralization has simply prolonged the inevitable? Isn’t it natural for a country this big to develop distinct regional identities, even fissiparous ones? Would we be getting along better on this sprawling continent if we had been allowed to develop several polities, albeit with strong shared mutual affinities?

The Great Ethnicity Manufacturing Machine

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This article could be just as aptly titled “How the Ford Foundation Created an Ethnic Group out of Thin Air.”

And while I am at it, what the hell is “white” – really? Do, say, Italians and Armenians, even though they are Caucasian, share the same American experience and legacy as a WASP family from the historic Beacon Hill section of Boston? 

I even take umbrage with the term WASP. There is arguably not much WASPish about the lumbers (desperately poor whites) who settled much of the American Back Country. 

I think that we all could make a fresh start by resolving that our ruling class will no longer supply classifications to the rest of us.  And, incidentally, this increasingly tangled ethnic American web – this ruling class strategy to pit one group against another – is another legacy of Wilsonian federalism.

Catalonia, the South and Secession

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I’m going to offend the sensitivities of most everyone who reads this, but I’ll be brutally frank: Whenever I read tripe like this defending large nation-states against the so-called parochialism and small-mindedness of regions such as Catalonia, I’m always inclined to ask: Why are the big nation-states always deemed right and the small aspiring nation’s always characterized as short-sighted and misguided, if not flat wrong?

For that matter, what happens when the vaunted nation-state turns out to be acquisitive, exploitative and tyrannical?

I don’t deny that if Catalonia succeeds at some point and becomes a bona fide nation-state, it will face its share of challenges.  But the fact remains that it is a very affluent region with its own language and cultural traditions.  Its culture and politics have diverged significantly from those of Spain, and this alienation is reinforced by a long history of Spanish economic and cultural dispossession, most recently at the hands of the Francisco Franco regime.  Critics of Catalan independence contend that Spain has undertaken a variety of means to redress these abuses within the last couple of generations, but national grievances are typically complicated, implacable things that stretch far into the recesses of memory.

For these reasons and others Catalans – at least, what appears to be the vast majority of them – no longer regard union with Spain as comporting with their vital national interests.

Yet, Christopher Dickey, the author of this column equates the historic grievances of Catalonia with the hysteria that gripped the South in the years leading up to the Civil War.

Why, Mr. Dickey, do you and other American writers and columnists feel so compelled to lecture small aspirant nations about Southern secession and the Civil War? Why is Southern secession and the outcome of the Civil War considered so instructive for Catalans and other aspiring nationalists?

Have you really invested serious study toward understanding the myriad of causes leading up to  Southern secession and the bloody war that followed?  Have you ever considered that the North, particularly the Northeast, opposed Southern secession with less than lofty intentions in mind?

Has it occurred to you that the Northeast was less offended by Southern slavery than by the fact that the South not only was the wealthiest and most influential section of the nation but also that it stood in the way of economic policies (e.g., protective tariffs) that greatly benefited the economic fortunes of the Northeast? Aren’t you aware that the Northeast desperately craved to secure its own economic and political preeminence at the expense of the South and that feigned outrage over slavery served as a convenient smokescreen for these interests?

Fort that matter, have you ever considered how quickly the Northeastern narrative took hold of American consciousness after the South’s departure? Were you ever struck by how quickly the saga of Pilgrims – frankly, a bunch of intolerant, commie, Calvinist kooks in New England – was imposed as the bedrock of the American national narrative, despite the fact that the first permanent English settlement in America was Jamestown, Virginia?

You contend that the South fought to preserve slavery and that the North fought to prevent secession. Have you ever given serious thought to why Lincoln and the North were so determined to prevent secession? Are you aware that Federalists in the Northeast actually were the first to contemplate secession because the economic policies of Southern presidents Jefferson and Madison simply were not deemed congenial to their regional interests?

Has it ever occurred to you that that Free Soil doctrine, which stoked much of the Southern secessionist rage in the South, essentially amounted to white separatism –  an American frontier populated exclusively by white merchants, laborers and artisans with no blacks, slave or free, allowed? And did you know that many old Northwestern states backstopped this policy with black codes to prevent the immigration of free blacks?

Yes, Mr. Dickey, there is a lot to be learned if you’re brave enough to venture beyond the officially approved historical canon and the ruling class narrative, whose bread and butter are closely bound up with perpetuating this narrative.

Zero-Sum Federalism

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state-flagsOur federal bonds are fraying.

We Americans increasingly are conditioned to view federalism and, along with it, national unity, in zero-sum terms. And why shouldn’t we?  The century-old cookie-cutter-style federalism imposed on this country via Wilsonian progressivism has been stretched far beyond the limits of its design function. It’s grown increasingly threadbare.  It’s no longer equipped to accommodate the world’s largest and most diverse economy, much less a culture that is growing increasingly diverse and divided.

The latest evidence attesting to this fact:  The uproar among several blue states – California, New York, Connecticut and Oregon, to name a few – over the House Republican tax cut plan.

The House bill would eliminate the most widely-used deduction – income tax – and would cap property tax deductions, the second most-used, at $10,000.  Here’s the rub:  Many high tax blue states rely heavily on these state and local deductions.  Consequently, many middle-class families in these states will end up paying more under the plan.

This is a lesson in history repeating itself – and possibly with dire consequences.  This growing dissension among states over tax policy bears remarkable parallels to the vexatious debates over tariff policy in the years leading up to the Civil War.  This dissension contributed mightily to the already toxic relations between the manufacturing Northeastern states, which favored high, protective tariffs, and the agrarian, slave-holding, export-oriented Southern states, which insisted on low tariffs levied only to raise essential federal revenue.

And, honestly, why should blue states be expected to foot tax relief for the rest of the country?

Some here in the red hinterland would argue that states that operate expansive and expensive safety nets have backed themselves into tight fiscal corners and no grounds for complaint.  But isn’t this their prerogative as sovereign states within a federal union?

This brings me to a social media exchange I had with some friends this morning regarding the future of the country and strategies for restoring some semblance of a social policy, one that accommodates all regions and classes throughout country.

I related to them that for the past generation or so, I’ve striven to become an amateur scholar of post-war politics and economics of post-war West Germany.   As a Tory conservative, I believe that there is much that Americans in the highly secularized, post-Christian 21st century can learn from this morally ravaged society.

I especially admire the old West German Christian Democratic party, which strove to restore a measure sanity to a morally and ethically gutted out post-Nazi society. Moreover, I admire deeply the social market economy that emerged after the war. As this term, social market, implies, it was an attempt by the Christian Democratic Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and his fledgling party not only to stave off socialism but also to build a vibrant post-war free-market economy, albeit one that would provide a reasonably generous safety net and collective bargaining for the working class.

Frankly I would like to replicate some version of the social market to American conditions, but the more I reflect on this, the more it occurs to me that this country is simply to big and diverse – not to mention, badly divided – to implement any such system over a vast scale. What worked – and, to a degree, still works – in a relatively organic society like Germany, simply isn’t tenable in this United States. I could marshal a number of historical arguments for his, but in the interests of brevity, I wont.

Suffice it to say that part of the challenge stems zero-sum views on federalism into which so many of us have fallen.  Blue-state Americans seem to regard any concession to red-state America as tantamount to moral and political betrayal and vice versa.


Under the circumstances, we seem to have drifted far past the point where any kind of humane social order can be established in a nation as large and diverse as the present-day United States.  Indeed, the more I think about all of this, the more inclined I am to adhere to the vision a new constitutional order outlined by the late American diplomat and statesman George F. Kennan.   Maybe the only viable option for American federalism is to heed his call to devolve power to 10 to 12 smaller entities – constituent republics in which 
citizens share strong historical and cultural affinities.

We could still share a common market and a common defense, but responsibilities for implementing social policies such as healthcare, social security, etc., would be left more or less exclusively to these constituent republics.

Yes, this amounts to a systemic, radical change, but is there really any other choice?  Aren’t many states evolving what amounts to different social and economic systems?  California, which possesses the fifth largest economy in the world, has evolved social policies and even a legal system that diverges significantly from much of the rest of the country.

 Under the circumstances, should we really be surprised that an increasing number of states are coming to regard federalism as a zero-sum game?

A Fishing Expedition, a Fire Bell in the Night

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Conservative commentators are already characterizing the Mueller indictments as a nothing burger in terms of how this investigation ultimately will pan out for Trump.

Investigators will turn up no significant evidence of collusion, many contend, and much of what’s discovered ultimately will portend serious consequences for the Clintons, whose allies, the Podestas, seem to be deeply invested in their own version of Russian collusion.

But as millions of deplorables see it, this investigation has amounted to a fishing expedition from the very beginning. And that is precisely why I’ve always regarded it with considerable amount of apprehension from the start.  Mueller is likely only getting started, and in time, he may end up nailing Trump on something entirely unrelated to Russia collusion: his business dealings.

Frankly, I’ve never doubted for a moment that Trump is a shady business dealer. I imagine that most New York real estate moguls are.  Likewise, I presume that most of his supporters have drawn the same conclusion. But when have rank-and-file Trumpistas ever been interested in his moral or ethical probity, at least, insofar as his past business dealings are concerned?

As I see it, most deplorables understand that we live in singular, if not desperate, times.  Many have come to draw a distinction between people who get rich from rather specious market deals (i.e., the Trumps) and those who apparently cash in on government service (i.e., the Clintons). For millions Trump supporters,  it simply boiled down to finding a mean, tough avaricious SOB to go mano a mano against all the mean tough, avaricious SOBs who run the swamp in Washington.

To paraphrase an old saying, Trump’s an SOB, but he’s our SOB.

So, what happens if the Mueller investigation turns up little, if any, Russian collusion and nails Trump instead on shady business dealings? I am reminded of Jefferson’s fire bell in the night.  This could turn out to be 21st century America’s version of the ill-fated Missouri compromise of 1820, the implications of which sparked Jefferson’s troubling late-night epiphany. Like the Missouri Compromise, a Mueller indictment of Trump on unanticipated grounds could have long-term consequences for American unity.  It could set off a train of events that ultimately could lead this country into a deep, dark abyss, much as the Missouri Compromise ultimately did.

Tens of millions of rank-and-file Trump supporters are going to perceive the Mueller investigation simply as what it arguably is: a fishing expedition undertaken by the ruling class to depose Trump – and the election results – so that it can get back to the old business of spreading more lilies and alligators throughout the Swamp.

What will follow?   Right-wing retrenchment?  Perpetual government gridlock?  A wrenching and protracted upheaval of American political structure?  Widespread social unrest?

We can be virtually certain of one thing: tens of Americans, certainly in the sprawling red hinterland, will likely emerge from all of this angrier and more cynical than ever.

A Different View of Patriotism

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john-kelly

Gen. John Kelly

Gen. John Kelly has predictably ignited a media firestorm for summoning the temerity to state that Gen. Robert E. Lee was behaving like most Americans of his time by choosing state over national allegiance.

“I would tell you that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man,” Kelly said in an interview with Fox News commentator Laura Ingraham. “He was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which 150 years ago was more important than country. It was always loyalty to state first back in those days. Now it’s different today. But the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War, and men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand.”

Sorry if I offend some of you, but I proudly and zealously place state and region over country. I happen to believe that the federal government is a constitutional republic conceived with sharply delineated powers and commissioned by the people of initially 11 (later 13) republics to operate as their common agent.

Modern Americans may even find it astonishing to learn early 19th century students at West Point, including the future Gen. Lee,  studied a constitutional textbook written by  attorney and legal scholar William Rawle and titled “A Constitutional View of the United States” that acknowledge the right of secession.

Of course, many of the nation’s premiere historians are weighing in on these intemperate statements, wondering how a man of Kelly’s immense accomplishments and responsibilities could harbor such antiquarian views.

“This is profound ignorance, that’s what one has to say first, at least of pretty basic things about the American historical narrative,” said David Blight, a Yale history professor. “I mean, it’s one thing to hear it from Trump, who, let’s be honest, just really doesn’t know any history and has demonstrated it over and over and over. But General Kelly has a long history in the American military.”

As for the views of these historians, I call on all of you to consider how all facets of American education, for better or worse, have been transformed within the last 60-plus years, largely as a result of the infusion of federal money and the expansion of federal patronage that has followed.

This has been accompanied by what I have come to call a miasmic orthodoxy that has settled on all levels of American education. Under the circumstances, can you see how pluralistic thinking among scholars, especially within the humanities, has been undermined?

 

Reinventing Oxbridge and the Ivy League

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Oxford

The Merton College Mob Quad at Oxford.  Photo: Courtesy of DWR. 

I may be a deplorable, but I don’t deplore the immense strides that the West, particularly the United States and Britain, have made in higher education within the last couple of centuries.

Oxbridge detractors are calling on Britain’s two elite institutions – Oxford and Cambridge – to scrap undergraduate education altogether and to function exclusively as graduate institutions. This, they contend, would eliminate much of the rank and privilege that are bound up in these ancient institutions and that have allowed its graduates to vault to the very highest reaches of polite society.

I personally perceive this as egalitarian sentiment run amok.

As much a I detest the present-day American ruling class, our civilization has derived immense material advantages from elite educational systems, such as Oxbridge and the Ivy League, that have afforded the most intellectually gifted among us not only an exposure to some of the greatest thinkers of our present day but also a critical means of networking. To put it another way, great benefits have been derived from concentrating our cognitive elites in relatively confined locations. And if undergraduate education were scrapped at Oxbridge and, ultimately, at the Ivy League, we would accomplish nothing aside from dispersing this talent across a wider scale and depriving them of these unusually condensed learning and networking opportunities.

Even so, it’s worth pointing out that many of the this country’s Nobel laureates in Medicine and Chemistry no longer come from the Ivy League. An increasing number come from public Research I universities and, in a few cases, from solid liberal arts colleges – a remarkable fact that author Malcolm Gladwell raises in his book Outliers.The Story of Success. These institutions include Antioch College, DePauw University, Holy Cross College, Hunter College and the University of Illinois.

While I am no academic – only a mere laymen who finds these sorts of discussions fascinating – my hunch is that many Research I universities and quite few of our well-regarded liberal arts colleges ultimately will ascend to levels comparable to the Ivy League.

Indeed, I think that one already can make the case that the honors programs at many Research I universities already are producing students with knowledge and expertise equal to or, perhaps in some cases, even surpassing those of their Ivy League counterparts. And in time, perhaps, these institutions will evolve the dense networking attributes that still tend to distinguish the Ivy League from other institutions.

While many institutions in this country and the West arguably are going to hell in the proverbial hand basket, America and Britain, in particular, have developed one of the most remarkably effective – not to mention, adaptive – institutions the world has ever known: higher education.

Instead of dismantling the best of the best of these higher educational institutions, I would like to see governments and other major sources of funding and endowments working to ensure that the advantages of elite education are extended to more remote parts of the United States.

 

Our Malignant Ruling Class (and Its Enablers)

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plutocratsMy Facebook Memories reminded me today that I shared this piece by John Stossel exactly a year ago.  Given what’s transpired over the past year, it’s worth revisiting.

Stossel observes that America has historically been bereft of the “old aristocracy” of Europe, but this hasn’t stopped many self-anointed meritocrats – at least, those who pass as such – from upbraiding the rest of us about our moral, ethical and social failings.

This script plays out day after day, not only among elites but also among those of the countless millions of ordinary Americans who are influenced to one degree or another by this imposed ethos.

I’m reminded of an especially annoying account shared with me a few years ago by a very talented former co-worker.  A native Alabamian with a palpable but cultivated Southern drawl, he enrolled in one of New York’s highly regarded Research I universities to complete a second graduate degree in his field. The course of study was an applied curriculum and he frequently was called upon to prepare projects to present to one of the classes.

The professor prefaced one of his presentations with the denigrating remark, “Let’s hear what Billy Bob has to say.”

Now, imagine the sh*t storm that would have erupted if this professor had prefaced a Muslim student’s presentation with something like “Let’s hear what Muhammad has to say” or an Indian Hindu student with “Let’s hear what Apu has to say.”

Granted, this professor technically can’t be defined as a member of the ruling class – he just rates as an enabler –  but this kind of brazen elitist contempt for people in so-called Flyover Country and particularly the South certainly reflects the cultural legacy of our ruling class.

We Southerners have shared these accounts among ourselves for years. A relative related to me a few months about about how her daughter-in-law, who developed rather flat General American accent in the course of growing up as an army brat, always feels compelled to intercede on behalf of high school teacher who conducts an annual student tour of New York City.  The teacher possesses a pronounced Appalachian twang, which frequently invokes the contemptuous obstinance of museum directors, tour guides and head waiters.

Granted, museum directors and tour guides do not rate as ruling class members, but their expressions of palpable aversion to this hapless educator and others speaks volumes about how successfully our self-anointed elites have sewn contempt for Southerners and other perceived bumpkins over the course of generations.

As I’ve said before, folks, I’m no Trump partisan, but I certainly understand and sympathize with the anger that has given rise to the Trump phenomenon.

Perhaps the serious blows dealt recently to Big Entertainment via the Harvey Weinstein revelations and to Big Media following new discoveries about DNC connections with the Trump Dossier will go a long way toward changing this dynamic.

Maybe the day is fast approaching when all or most of the facets of the Establishment left will be held to thedame level of contempt as Harvey Weinstein.

Yes, things may be changing – one can hope, at least – but for now, though, the ruling class still occupies the driver’s seat.  As Stossel stresses, it still decides “which ideas are acceptable, which scientific theories to believe, what speech is permitted.”