theintercept | Indeed, media reaction to the Brexit vote — filled with unreflective rage, condescension, and contempt toward those who voted wrong — perfectly illustrates the dynamics that caused all of this in the first place. Media elites, by virtue of their position, adore the status quo. It rewards them, vests them with prestige and position, welcomes them into exclusive circles, allows them to be close to (if not themselves wielding) great power while traveling their country and the world, provides them with a platform, fills them with esteem and purpose. The same is true of academic elites, financial elites, and political elites. Elites love the status quo that has given them, and then protected, their elite position.
Because of how generally satisfied they are with their lot, they regard with affection and respect the internationalist institutions that safeguard the West’s prevailing order: the World Bank and IMF, NATO and the West’s military forces, the Federal Reserve, Wall Street, the EU. While they express some piecemeal criticisms of each, they literally cannot comprehend how anyone would be fundamentally disillusioned by and angry with these institutions, let alone want to break from them. They are far removed from the suffering that causes those anti-establishment sentiments. So they search and search in vain for some rationale that could explain something like Brexit, or the establishment-condemning movements on the right and left, and can find only one way to process it: These people are not motivated by any legitimate grievances or economic suffering, but instead they are just broken, ungrateful, immoral, hateful, racist, and ignorant.
Of course it is the case that some, perhaps much, of the support given to these anti-establishment movements is grounded in those sorts of ugly sentiments. But it’s also the case that the media elites’ revered establishment institutions in finance, media, and politics are driven by all sorts of equally ugly impulses, as the rotted fruit of their actions conclusively proves.
Even more important, the mechanism that Western citizens are expected to use to express and rectify dissatisfaction — elections — has largely ceased to serve any corrective function. As Hayes, in a widely cited tweet, put it this week about Brexit:
But that is exactly the choice presented not only by Brexit but also Western elections generally, including the 2016 Clinton v. Trump general election (just look at the powerful array of Wall Street tycoons and war-loving neocons that — long before Trump — viewed the former Democratic New York senator and secretary of state as their best hope for having their agenda and interests served). When democracy is preserved only in form, structured to change little to nothing about power distribution, people naturally seek alternatives for the redress of their grievances, particularly when they suffer.