‘Gray Matter’–Deficient Americans

Michael Bloomberg speaks at the Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., January 29, 2019. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)
The billionaires and bureaucrats depend on the skilled workers they mock — and that makes them more than a little uneasy.

Former New York mayor and multibillionaire Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg, four years ago at Oxford, England, dismissed farming, ancient and modern. He lectured that agriculture was little more than the rote labor of dropping seeds into the ground and watching corn sprout — easy, mindless, automatic.

“I could teach anybody,” Bloomberg pontificated, “even people in this room, no offense intended, to be a farmer.”

He contrasted such supposedly unintelligent labor of the past (and present) with the “skill set” of the current “information economy” that requires “how to think and analyze.” In this new economy, he said, “you have to have a lot more gray matter.”

Gray matter?

For all his later denials and efforts to contextualize those remarks, Bloomberg seems to see both ancient and modern agriculture, and farmers, as either unskilled or not very smart, as if the genetically inferior gravitate to muscular labor far from the “skill sets” of those like Mike Bloomberg. He certainly has no idea about either the sophistication of ancient agriculture or the high-tech savvy of contemporary farmers — much less just how difficult it is, and always was, to produce food, much less that history is so often the story of mass famine rather than bounty and plenty.

Bloomberg’s apparent dismissal of rural people might seem odd, given that Democrats profess allegiance with the working classes and muscular labor. But, in fact, his disdain is perversely logical and indeed predictable.

In the earlier 2008 campaign, then-progressive candidate Barack Obama wrote off the rural voters of Pennsylvania, a state he lost in the primaries to Hillary Clinton. Of those who apparently did not vote for him, he claimed: “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

A contrite Obama knew relatively little about rural Pennsylvania other than the stereotypes he had embraced about country life from his Hawaiian prep-school cocoon, Occidental College, the Ivy League, and his subsequent elite, identity-politics cursus honorum.

His then-opponent Hillary Clinton pounced and attacked Obama as “elitist and out of touch” — and she soon transmogrified, as Obama put it, into “Annie Oakley” Hillary. Remember that, in those few days of her failed first bid to capture the Democratic nomination, Hillary drank boilermakers, talked guns, bowled, and bragged about her solid support among the “white” working classes.

Of course, eight years later Hillary herself wrote off the base of her 2016 opponent Donald Trump as “a basket of deplorables.” And after smearing them as “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic — you name it,” she boasted that some of them were “irredeemable, but thankfully, they are not America.” When candidate Clinton went to impoverished West Virginia, she lectured poor and often out-of-work coal miners, promising, “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” This from someone who gave inane 20-minute talks to Wall Street grandees for over $12,000 a minute — on their expectation that she’d be a compliant quid pro quo political investment.

Former vice president and current presidential candidate Joe Biden said of Trump’s working-class voters, “They’re a small percentage of the American people, virulent people, some of them the dregs of society.”

Biden, by 2019, had also metamorphosed from good ole Joe Biden of rural and coal-mining Scranton, Pa., to the grandee who could advise doomed coal miners to learn how to program computers: “Anybody who can throw coal into a furnace can learn how to program, for God’s sake!”

A coal miner might have replied to Joe Biden: “Anybody who cannot do much of anything other than get mired in drugs and illicit affairs can certainly learn how to make $80,000 a month as a consultant to a foreign energy company.”

The disdain for the working and middle classes shown by wealthy liberals who supposedly champion labor is matched by the disdain of progressive government bureaucrats, media, and left-wing Hollywood celebrities. In one amorous exchange to his paramour Lisa Page, fellow FBI agent and Trump hater Peter Strzok said, “Just went to a Southern Virginia Walmart. I could SMELL the Trump support.”

Strzok, who was the highest-profile FBI employee in most of the major scandals of the past four years — the Clinton email fiasco, the setup of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, the Crossfire Hurricane FBI investigation of “Russian collusion,” and the Mueller special-counsel investigation — was apparently representative of the FBI hierarchy. One anonymous attorney wrote to another in a text disclosed by the inspector general, “Trump’s supporters are all poor to middle class, uneducated, lazy POS.”

Marquee reporters often got caught expressing the same sort of disdain felt by progressive politicians and the federal bureaucratic elite. Describing the crowd at a Trump rally, Politico reporter Marc Caputo tweeted, “If you put everyone’s mouths together in this video, you’d get a full set of teeth.”

The locus classicus of elite progressives’ disdain for working-class Trump supporters was a recent panel on the show of CNN host Don Lemon. Pundits Rick Wilson and Wajahat Ali took turns ridiculing the accent and intelligence of the supposedly Neanderthal rural voter. Or as Wilson put it, Trump plays to “the credulous Boomer rube demo that backs Donald Trump that wants to think — ” and here Wilson adopted a faux-Southern accent — “‘Donald Trump is the smart one and y’all elitists are dumb.’”

Then, as host Lemon doubled over in laughter at their impressions of supposed white trash, his two guests adopted “redneck” accents and indulged in an extended parody of the allegedly stupid Trump voter:

Ali: “You elitists, with your geography and your maps and your spellin’ . . . ”

Wilson: “Your math and your readin’ . . .”

Ali: “Yeah, your readin’, your geography, knowin’ other countries, sippin’ your latte.”

Wilson: “All those lines on the map.”

Ali: “Only them elitists know where U-kraine is!”

Progressive derision of the working class, and especially lower-middle-class white America, pre-dated Trump. Remember the decade of hatred that Hollywood expressed for Sarah Palin, her family, and her supposed class, both during and after the 2008 campaign.

Late-night talk-show host David Letterman joked on his show that Sarah Palin’s 14-year-old daughter Bristol had been “knocked up” in the dugout by star Alex Rodriguez during a New York Yankees game — as if rural, stupid, and inbred Alaskans are eager to be statutorily raped in their groupie eagerness to seek out celebrities, even in dirty dugouts amid a crowd of thousands.

The list of disparagement could be expanded — do we remember how the media assured us that Harvard Law graduate Adam Schiff was to destroy his counterpart, supposedly hick farmer Devin Nunes — at least until Inspector General Michael Horowitz found the information in the Nunes majority report factual, and by implication found that the Schiff minority version was an assemblage of falsehoods and half-truths?

Why do so many liberal journalists, politicians, and celebrities harbor such contempt for, and show such snobbery about, the white working, and often rural, classes of the American heartland?

The most obvious answers are that the media, elite politicians, and government hierarchy are liberal or left-wing, and the objects of their hatred are mostly conservative. Just look at any election map, color-coded by either congressional districts or Electoral College states, and the nation, geographically, is a sea of red, bookended by two long blue corridors on the coasts, the home of the nation’s tony universities, network news, media hubs, the bureaucratic borg, Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and Wall Street.

Second, there is no cultural, career, or political downside in stereotyping millions of Americans as stupid, crude, and culturally repugnant. Had Don Lemon’s two guests mimicked the dialect of inner-city youths and suggested they were uneducated and thus gullible supporters of Barack Obama, they would have been banned from CNN for life. Or had Peter Strzok suggested that he could smell Obama supporters at Walmart, federal attorneys would probably have found a way to have him indicted by now.

Third, politics, academia, the media, and entertainment don’t necessarily draw in particularly wise people, especially if knowledge is broadly defined as social skills, empirical education, common sense, and pragmatic experience. According to the rules of the elementary playground, one becomes exalted by ridiculing others. High-school dropouts such as Robert De Niro and Cher seem to appear sophisticated by ranting about Trump and his supposedly ignorant supporters. Don Lemon’s skills seem mostly limited to reading a teleprompter — when he ventures into commentary and analysis, he usually sounds either banal or adolescent. Howling at stupid jokes about the supposed ignorance of the red-state drawler apparently lend the insipid Lemon an air of cosmopolitan sophistication. Michael Bloomberg, for all his billions and cunning, cannot fathom in a debate that, by joking about TurboTax, he only further alienates millions who use it because they cannot hire his legions of attorneys to reduce their tax exposure.

Finally, there is also a psychological explanation for why coastal elites negatively stereotype the churchgoers, farmers, gun owners, and Walmart shoppers of the nation’s interior. Our elite, especially those of our white elite establishment, are not especially comfortable with either poor people or minorities — at least not in the sense of living among them, working alongside them, schooling their children with them, or marrying among them. They sense that such concrete unease — their fear and insecurity — is at odds with their well-meant desire to help the underprivileged in the abstract.

Elites help square that circle of wishing to aid the Other while not being anyway near the Other through the use of medieval-style virtue-signaling. That is, they deplore white racism and privilege by attributing it to supposedly ignorant and less enlightened poor white people, whose illiberality and un-wokeness they can lazily stereotype as responsible for the plight of the underclass.

Our best and brightest cannot be the good white people unless there are plenty of the bad white people. Smearing the latter is a convenient — and cheap — way of showing abstract solidarity with the nonwhite. In reductionist terms, those with undeniable white privilege damn as privileged those who have never been near it, thereby erasing their own privilege and spiritually placing them at the virtual barricades beside those they otherwise keep carefully distant.

Of course, there is also an element of fear, even apprehension, in such demonic generalization, a result of segregation from and ignorance about the physical world. Barack Obama, who once complained about the price of arugula and either had never heard or never spoken the word “corpsman,” knew that he knew nothing about farming or guns or clinging working people. Did he realize that his food, his safety, the maintenance of his home and car depended on others who could do things to keep his world viable that he not only could not do but also could not even imagine? Ask Obama and his class to replace a 30-amp breaker, or prune a peach tree, or drive a semi, and one could see that he assumes others who are supposedly less gifted provide his power, food, and consumer goods, using skills he lacks.

Ditto Hillary Clinton and Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg claims he could teach anyone on an Oxford stage how to be a farmer. But he knows that he has no knowledge of farming, ancient or modern, and has no detailed notion of where or how his fruits, vegetables, grains, and choice cuts arrive at his various estates and hence his table. He may even sense that while the world could do without Bloomberg News, it could not survive without skilled farmers. So he is a bit edgy when he thinks about the physical world of muscle that allows him to be Mike Bloomberg, multibillionaire Socratic dunce.

We need to move beyond the idea that the elite caricature the deplorables because they are insensitive and arrogant. True, they are, but they also do it because they are insecure — and terribly afraid of those they don’t like, but also sense they desperately need.

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Case for Trump.

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