Tuesday, October 25, 2016
NewYorker | Summers still supports trade agreements, including nafta. The problem, he said, is that few people understand the benefits: the jobs created by exporting goods; trade’s role in strengthening other economies, thereby reducing immigration flows from countries like Mexico. The “popularization of politics,” he said, keeps leaders from pursuing controversial but important policies. If the Marshall Plan had been focus-grouped, it never would have happened. Globalization creates what Summers called a “trilemma” among global integration, public goods like environmental protection or high wages, and national sovereignty. It’s become clear that Democratic élites, including him, underestimated the power of nationalism, because they didn’t feel it strongly themselves.
Summers described the current Democratic Party as “a coalition of the cosmopolitan élite and diversity.” The Republicans, he went on, combined “social conservatism and an agenda of helping rich people.” These alignments left neither party in synch with Americans like Mark Frisbie: “All these regular people who thought they are kind of the soul of the country—they feel like there was nobody who seemed to be thinking a lot about them.” In 2004, the political scientist Samuel Huntington published his final book, “Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity.” He used the term “cosmopolitan élites” to describe Americans who are at home in the fluid world of transnational corporations, dual citizenship, blended identities, and multicultural education. Such people dominate our universities, tech companies, publishers, nonprofits, entertainment studios, and news media. They congregate in cities and on the coasts. Lately, they have become particularly obsessed with the food they eat. The locavore movement, whatever its benefits to health and agriculture, is an inward-looking form of activism. When you visit a farm-to-table restaurant and order the wild-nettle sformato for thirty dollars, the line between social consciousness and self-gratification disappears. Buying synthetic-nitrate-free lunch meat at Whole Foods is also a way to isolate yourself from contamination by the packaged food sold at Kmart and from the overweight, downwardly mobile people who shop there. The people who buy food at Kmart know it.
Two decades ago, the conservative social scientist Charles Murray co-wrote “The Bell Curve,” which argued that inherited I.Q., ethnicity, and professional success are strongly connected, thereby dooming government efforts to educate poor Americans into the middle class. The book generated great controversy, including charges of racism, and some of its methodology was exposed as flawed. In a more recent book, “Coming Apart,” Murray focusses on the widening divide between a self-segregated white upper class and an emerging white lower class. He concludes that “the trends signify damage to the heart of American community and the way in which the great majority of Americans pursue satisfying lives.”
Murray lives in Burkittsville, Maryland, an hour and a quarter’s drive from Washington, D.C. It’s a virtually all-white town where elements of the working class have fallen on hard times. “The energy coming out of the new lower class really only needed a voice, because they are so pissed off at people like you and me,” he said. “We so obviously despise them, we so obviously condescend to them—‘flyover country.’ The only slur you can use at a dinner party and get away with is to call somebody a redneck—that won’t give you any problems in Manhattan. And you can also talk about evangelical Christians in the most disparaging terms—you will get no pushback from that. They’re aware of this kind of condescension. And they also haven’t been doing real well.”