It is hard to comprehend 2001 being 17 years ago, a fact that hit me as I realized just how long ago Chris Lehmann's indispensable "The Eyes of Spiro are Upon You" was written. Nothing did, in hindsight, a better job of foreshadowing 21st Century faux-populist conservatism. Now that the movement has matured (a term used only in the strictest sense) and given rise to Trump this seems even more prescient.
Some of you are old enough to remember living through the Nixon years, and some of you are old enough to have been politically aware adults during that time. Everything about "class" in American politics in this century – the Thomas Frank "What's the Matter with Kansas?" argument about the decoupling of status, wealth, and class followed by the tidal wave of white resentment politics – has its roots in the Nixon years. Yesterday in the faux-histrionics following the White House Correspondents Dinner it all came flooding back in a hurry when I saw this widely-circulated tweet:
My wife @mercedesschlapp and I walked out early from the wh correspondents dinner. Enough of elites mocking all of us
— Matt Schlapp (@mschlapp) April 29, 2018
You probably don't recognize the name. Matthew Schlapp and his wife are the husband-wife team behind one of the largest and most powerful lobbying shops in Washington. So when he complains about "elites" mocking all of "us" it comes off as a bit disingenuous, at least for anyone who understands what the word "elites" means. It turns out, as this generation of right-wing plutocrats is learning, that money can buy power but it can't buy respect and admiration. People who are worth eight figures and who have direct access to the political leaders of the world still manage to see themselves as one of the Little People not because they don't understand that they're rich; even conservatives are self-aware enough to know that. But what they are not is liked.
The media, tastemakers, intellectuals, artist-types…these people are the ones they deem "elite" because those are the people whose approval the rich and powerful desperately crave. And until rich Trump-affiliated lobbyists hear others heaping them with the praise they need and think they deserve, they will never be happy. They will forever see themselves as oppressed because all their money cannot buy them a room they won't get laughed out of.