Occasionally some opinionator peers behind the curtain of daily events and unveils an insight that puts the news in a newly clarifying perspective.
What’s exposed may not be uplifting or reassuring, but that’s no reason to discount it.
Such exposure is the service Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan performed Aug. 13 by discussing the role played by U.S. and global elites.
Under the jarring headline, “How Global Elites Forsake Their Countrymen,” Noonan wrote that when German Chancellor Angela Merkel offered to accept nearly a million Mideast refugees this year, she “put the entire burden of a huge cultural change not on herself and those like her, but on regular people who live closer to the edge, who do not have the resources to meet the burden, who have no particular protection or money or connections.”
But Merkel and her top supporters are insulated by money and position from those effects. As Noonan wrote, “Nothing in their lives will get worse. The challenge of integrating different cultures, negotiating daily tensions, dealing with crime and extremism and fearfulness on the street — that was put on those with comparatively little, whom I’ve called the unprotected.”
Even worse, “The powerful show no particular sign of worrying about any of this. When the working and middle class pushed back in shocked indignation, the people on top called them ‘xenophobic,’ ‘narrow-minded,’ ‘racist.’ The detached, who made the decisions and bore none of the costs, got to be called ‘humanist,’ ‘compassionate,’ and ‘hero(es) of human rights.'”
Noonan ends with a telling American example, noting that State Department data show that almost all of the refugees settled in Virginia since October “have been placed in towns with lower incomes and higher poverty rates, hours away from the wealthy suburbs outside of Washington, D.C.”
That means, “Of 121 refugees, 112 were placed in communities at least 100 miles from the nation’s capital. The suburban counties of Fairfax, Loudoun and Arlington — among the wealthiest in the nation, and home to high concentrations of those who create, and populate, government and the media — have received only nine refugees.”
That’s just one example, she concluded, of the elites’ “sheer and clever self-protection.”
Her comments were widely noted, with some recalling President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign-related statement that “it’s not surprising” that average people “get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
Others said the trend was reminiscent of the dystopian society of “The Hunger Games,” where residents of Capitol City live in luxury while everyone else labors to support them.
Historian Victor Davis Hanson said in a National Review Online column Monday that ordinary people are not angry at all the wealthy, “but at the well-connected elites whose lives are graced with cultural and social privileges, characterized by insider influence and generationally embedded connections” that blind them to “the direct results of their own ideological agendas.”
And R.R. Reno, editor of the prestigious religious journal First Things, that same day described one potential cause, an “elephant chart” so named because, in tracking global income growth from 1988 to 2008, the curve resembles the outline of an elephant.
From the poorest of the poor, it quickly rises to a big hump for non-Western nations’ middle classes, dips like the bend in a pachyderm’s trunk for middle classes in the West, and rises again to a peak for global elites at the highest income levels.
“The global system,” he wrote, “is committed to the free flow of labor, goods, and capital (and) works well for the leadership class in Europe and North America, as it does for striving workers in China, India, and elsewhere. It doesn’t work so well for the middle class in the West. Thus, in the West, the led no longer share the economic interests of their leaders.”
So, “Ordinary people feel abandoned and frustration builds, driving today’s populism,” which is strengthened, not eliminated, when their concerns over open borders and minimal growth are discounted and their motives are demonized.
If this is correct, and global in scope, then the outcome of a single U.S. election will not resolve it.
What’s Reno’s vision of the ultimate result? “The decoupling of the leaders and the led is ‘something big.’ The economic forces driving this decoupling are powerful. The ideological supports — a morally superior cosmopolitanism, a flexible multi-culturalism, and now dominant utilitarian thinking — are strong.”
Thus, the “odds are good that the democratic era will come to an end. The elephant chart suggests the future will be one of empire.”
His grim point is that “Capitol City” is what history shows you will get when resources are concentrated in the hands of deracinated, disconnected and disdainful elites.
M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at: