Politics & Policy

Dear Trump Apologists, Stop Whining about Elites When You’re Worse

Trump speaks at a rally in Pennsylvania in April. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)
As Trump falters, their search for scapegoats will only accelerate.

The last refuge of the Trump apologist is the anti-elite rant. It goes something like this: The elite is getting what it deserves. Living in their gated communities, they advocated policies that benefited them — indifferent to the consequences. They got cheap gardeners when Americans who work with their hands lost jobs. They got to feel good about “diversity” while America opened its doors to terrorists. They enjoyed cheap consumer goods while plants closed. They embroil America in wars that they don’t have the will to win. A pox on their house. They deserve to fail.

Lord knows, the American elite is a target-rich environment. I concur with much of the critique. There’s not much that’s elite about our modern technocrats. There’s not much that’s actually elite about our modern political class. Many of them do lack character. Obama’s elites have squandered American military victories. Some of them even go beyond incompetence into outright corruption. But here’s the problem — a civil society is built on a foundation of mutual, interlocking, and unconditional responsibilities. Failure in one segment of political culture does not in any way excuse failure in the others. Indeed, it actually highlights and enhances the obligation of everyone else.

This reality is self-evident in government. If a president is a failure, both Congress and the Supreme Court are under increased pressure to either check the chief executive’s excesses or steer the ship of state on a rational course. Indeed, the Constitution contains explicit checks on each branch of government — up to and including allowing for the impeachment and removal of the “President, Vice President, and all Civil Officers of the United States” and requiring “good behaviour” for Supreme Court justices and judges of the inferior courts.

This is Civics 101, of course, but the obligation to check government — to step up when it fails — also applies to citizens. Democracy fails when the people fail. And, yes, the people can fail. In fact, it was not long ago that it was fashionable for Republicans to bemoan the “low-information voters” who put Obama over the top. They’d e-mail around YouTube clips, chortling at Democratic voters who thought Sarah Palin or Paul Ryan were Obama’s vice-presidential picks or had no idea that Osama bin Laden was dead. They snorted at the Obama-worship and laughed at people who thought he’d make it easier to pay their mortgage.

Citizens have a responsibility to stay reasonably informed, to actually know something about a candidate’s positions and character.

Who’s laughing now? GOP primary voters, including many of the same people who mocked the Democrats, actually selected a low-information nominee. Donald Trump would struggle to pass high-school civics, and in more than a year on the campaign trail, he hasn’t even tried to learn about our nation, its economy, or its military. No amount of chortling over his ability to defeat Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, or Ted Cruz changes that fact.

He’s on every side of virtually every issue in part because he doesn’t truly know any issue. He compounds his ignorance by refusing to listen to advice and would rather humiliate even his allies (remember the Chris Christie hostage video?) than be seen as taking their counsel. He has no idea how to fight ISIS because he doesn’t have the slightest clue about the military’s capabilities, much less any knowledge of military strategy.

In other words, millions of GOP voters chose to respond to failed elitism with something worse — aggressive, arrogant idiocy. And, by the way, it’s no excuse that many of them actually had no idea what they were doing — that they didn’t know much about Trump and were only vaguely aware of his many gaffes and failures. Citizens have a responsibility to stay reasonably informed, to actually know something about a candidate’s positions and character.

#related#Yes, I know that many of his voters are frustrated, salt-of-the-earth Americans. Many of them are people who’ve done great things for their country and for their communities. Some of them are my friends and neighbors. Like many conservatives, I’ve had more hard conversations with good people than during any other election, ever. And I say now in print what I’ve said countless times in person. Another man’s (or woman’s) failure does not excuse your own foolishness. If you’re going to rip the “elite,” be better than the elite.

As Trump continues to falter, surprising even the most hardened Never Trump cynics with the sheer extent of his malice and ignorance, the search for scapegoats will only accelerate. The GOP will be consumed with bitterness and finger-pointing. But Trump voters, there’s no need for recriminations or blame-shifting. When considering who’s at fault for the debacle we face, there’s only one person you need to blame. The man in the mirror. This is the world you made.

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