One of the strangest things about the modern progression in liberal thought is its increasing comfort with elitism and high style. Over the last 30 years, the enjoyment of refined tastes, both material and psychological, has become a hallmark of liberalism — hand in glove with the art of professional altruism, so necessary to the guilt-free enjoyment of the good life. Take most any contemporary issue, and the theme of elite progressivism predominates.
Higher education? A visitor from Mars would note that the current system of universities and colleges is designed to promote the interests of an elite at the expense of the middle and lower-middle classes. UCLA, Yale, and even CSU Stanislaus run on premises far more reactionary and class-based than does Wal-Mart. The teaching loads and course responsibilities of tenured full professors have declined over the last half-century, while the percentage of units taught by graduate students and part-time faculty, with few benefits and low pay, has soared.
The number of administrators has likewise climbed — even as student indebtedness has skyrocketed, along with the unemployment rate among recent college graduates. A typical scenario embodying these bizarre trends would run something like the following: The UC assistant provost for diversity affairs, or the full professor of Italian literature, focusing on gender and the self, depend on lots of graduate and undergraduate students in the social sciences and humanities piling up debt without any guarantee of jobs, while part-time faculty subsidize the formers’ lifestyles by teaching, without grading assistants, the large introductory undergraduate courses, getting paid a third to half what those with tenure receive.
The conference and the academic book, with little if any readership, promote the career interest and income of the trendy administrator and the full professor, and are subsidized by either the taxpayers or the students or both. All of the above assumes that a nine-month teaching schedule, with tenure, grants, sabbaticals, and release time, are above reproach and justify yearly tuition hikes exceeding the rate of inflation. The beneficiaries of the system win exemption from criticism through loud support of the current progressive agenda, as if they were officers with swagger sticks in the culture wars who must have their own perks if they are to properly lead the less-well-informed troops out of the trenches.
Take illegal immigration. On the facts, it is elitist to the core. Big business, flush with cash, nevertheless wants continued access to cheap labor, and so favors amnesties for millions who arrived without English, education, or legality. On the other end of the scale, Jorge Hernandez, making $9 an hour mowing lawns, is not enthusiastic about an open border, which undercuts his meager bargaining power with his employer.
The state, not the employer, picks up the cost of subsidies to ensure that impoverished illegal-immigrant workers from Oaxaca have some semblance of parity with American citizens in health care, education, legal representation, and housing. The employers’ own privilege exempts them from worrying whether they would ever need to enroll their kids in the Arvin school system, or whether an illegal-alien driver will hit their daughter’s car on a rural road and leave the scene of the accident. In other words, no one in Atherton is in a trailer house cooking meth; the plastic harnesses of missing copper wire from streetlights are not strewn over the sidewalks in Palo Alto; and the Menlo schools do not have a Bulldog-gang problem.
Meanwhile, ethnic elites privately understand that the melting pot ensures eventual parity with the majority and thereby destroys the benefits of hyphenation. So it becomes essential that there remain always hundreds of thousands of poor, uneducated, and less-privileged immigrants entering the U.S. from Latin America. Only that way is the third-generation Latino professor, journalist, or politician seen as a leader of group rather than as an individual. Take away illegal immigration, and the Latino caucus and Chicano graduation ceremony disappear, and the beneficiaries become just ordinary politicians and academics, distinguished or ignored on the basis of their own individual performance.
Mexico? Beneath the thin veneer of Mexican elites suing Americans in U.S. courts is one of the most repressive political systems in the world. Mexican elites make the following cynical assumptions: Indigenous peoples are better off leaving Mexico and then scrimping to send billions of dollars home in remittances; that way, they do not agitate for missing social services back home; and once across the border, they act as an expatriate community to leverage concessions from the United States.
Nannies, gardeners, cooks, and personal attendants are increasingly recent arrivals from Latin America — even as the unemployment rates of Latino, African-American, and working-class white citizens remain high, with compensation relatively low. No wonder that loud protestations about “xenophobes, racists, and nativists” oil the entire machinery of elite privilege. Does the liberal congressman or the Washington public advocate mow his own lawn, clean his toilet, or help feed his 90-year-old mother? At what cost would he cease to pay others to do these things — $20, $25 an hour? And whom would he hire if there were no illegal immigrants? The unemployed African-American teenager in D.C.? The unemployed Appalachian in nearby West Virginia? I think not.
Or take the green industry. At about the same time that statisticians readjusted the first-quarter GDP growth markedly downward — to a 1.8 percent annual rate, from the previously reported 2.4 percent — President Obama announced sweeping new regulations to curtail carbon emissions that will hamper the coal industry, further slow the economy — and delight his elite green base. Al Gore thought the speech historic. And why would he not? Gore has made hundreds of millions of dollars in the Marcus Licinius Crassus style of hyping a disaster and then profiting from its remedy. Gore hates carbon emissions. So much so that he dismisses those who live by them, such as coal-company executives, coal miners, and the rubes who mindlessly use coal-based electricity. But Gore also likes money and what money can do for him — SUVs, private jet travel, multiple residences. That’s why he just sold his interest in a failed cable-television network to a broadcasting network backed by a Middle Eastern authoritarian sheikhdom, known for both its anti-Semitism and its huge cash profits from the sale of fossil fuels. Take away the talk of polar bears and melting ice caps, and Gore becomes just another huckster, cashing in on oil profits from the Middle East, a region that is ensured continuance of its riches in part because of environmental restrictions that hamper fracking, horizontal drilling, and coal production on public lands in the United States.
Here in central California there are predictable themes to the new environmentalism: Land that could produce food and provide jobs will be idled to protect a bait fish in the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta. Rivers that are critical to irrigation and are anchors of the economy will be diverted to their 19th-century course in order to fulfill the dream of salmon runs through a desert-like San Joaquin Valley, and hundreds of billions of dollars worth of gas and oil that could be fracked and provide jobs for communities suffering 10-plus percent unemployment will be ignored. On one side, there are academics, lawyers, high government officials, those with inherited wealth, and those with enough capital to easily afford the higher taxes and higher costs of fuel, power, and food that are the inevitable wages of their own boutique ideology. On the other side, there are the apparent losers and clingers who are out of work, who pay over $4 a gallon for gas for their silly used Dodge Ram trucks, and who stupidly splurge by turning their air conditioners on for an hour or two a day in 108-degree Fresno.
In the real world, the tiny delta smelt is a good psychological totem for a well-paid Google exec in Mountain View, who doesn’t mind paying a little more for his arugula or paying higher sales taxes. But the worship of a bait fish is not shared by Manuel Lopez, a tractor driver in Bakersfield who has no more fields to disc this summer. Those in breezy, cool Malibu hate coal, and apparently believe those who mine it would be better off on food stamps and unemployment insurance, which the generous seaside denizens would so selflessly be willing to pay for.
Take gun control. What caused the latest round of furor over the Second Amendment was not gun-related deaths per se. In fact, they have been declining overall in the United States for some time. Nor is it the death toll in Chicago, where last year over 500 mostly African-American and Latino youths gunned each other down, almost exclusively with illegally obtained handguns in a city that has enacted among the tightest gun laws in the nation. Instead, the horrible tragedies of Columbine and Sandy Hook and Aurora suggest that the atypical shooter with a semi-automatic long gun will on rare occasions slaughter anywhere, from an upscale school to a cinema in a good neighborhood. Worse still, the most effective remedies for stopping these typically young, white, unhinged suburbanite shooters — detain the mentally ill far more frequently, curb the promiscuous use of psychotropic drugs, treat violent video games for our youth as we do pornography, jawbone Hollywood to show some restraint in its graphic and titillating portrays of gun carnage — rub up against liberal elite views on mental health, civil liberties, free expression, and the arts.
The result is that the elite find resonance in demonizing the largely white lower-middle-class gun crowd, who are not responsible for the vast majority of yearly gun deaths, but whose culture as the proverbial clingers is ripe for caricature and the fuel of elite outrage. No gun law that Barack Obama has supported would have stopped any of the recent suburban violence — given the millions of weapons that exist throughout the United States. To stop Sandy Hook — where the deranged Adam Lanza stole from his own mother firearms that she had legally purchased — the president would have had to confiscate privately owned semi-automatic rifles and larger clips, or made the possession of existing rifle ammunition illegal. No matter: Obama knew well that the liberal elites were outraged that savage violence had hit the suburbs; he knew too that there was nothing he could do to stop it that was acceptable to those elites, while there were lots of cultural targets that would at least allow the elites to vent. Thus followed the hysterical calls to ban all sorts of evil-looking black “assault weapons” and the demonization of the redneck beer-bellies who for some reason like to shoot them at their inane target ranges.
Modern liberalism, among other things, is a psychological state, in which very-well-off Americans find ways through their income and privilege to be exempt from the ramifications of their own ideologies, while adopting causes and pets that exempt them from guilt over their own status and limitless opportunities. Judging by their concrete actions, they are indifferent to the poor whom they romanticize at a safe distance. In short, voting for larger government and subsidies is seen as a necessary cost of being a reactionary, liberal elite.