Barack Obama’s presidency of moral condescension has produced an electoral backlash.
Karl Marx, in a particularly dyspeptic moment, offered this description of what he dismissed as the lumpen proletariat:
“Alongside decayed roués with dubious means of subsistence and of dubious origin, alongside ruined and adventurous offshoots of the bourgeoisie, were vagabonds, discharged soldiers, discharged jailbirds, escaped galley slaves, swindlers, mountebanks, lazzaroni, pickpockets, tricksters, gamblers, pimps, brothel keepers, porters, literati, organ grinders, ragpickers, knife grinders, tinkers, beggars—in short, the whole indefinite, disintegrated mass, thrown hither and thither, which the French call la bohème.”
Even Donald Trump’s critics would not go so far as to suggest that his voter base consists of vagabonds, pickpockets or even, ugh, “literati.” But for the longest time, the American media saw the Trump base as an “indefinite, disintegrated mass” of mostly angry, lower-middle-class white males. The early Trump adopters often looked like bikers, with or without jobs. The Trumpen proletariat.
This was the original Trump bedrock, the proles who could look past him saying that John McCain, though tortured for years by the Vietnamese, wasn’t a hero. Even now they’ll blink right by Mr. Trump’s remark this week that Saddam Hussein was “good” at killing terrorists (“they didn’t read them their rights”), despite the unhappy fact that Saddam was a psychopathic, blood-soaked torturer responsible for the deaths of perhaps a half million non-terrorist Iraqi citizens.
(Still, one may ask: When the day after her Comey pardon, Hillary Clinton proposes “free” tuition at public colleges for families earning up to $85,000 a year, and $125,000 by 2021, how come her campaign isn’t universally laughed and mocked off the map?)
The media originally looked upon the emerging Trump base with suspicion and distrust, regarding it as a volatile and possibly dangerous political faction but one that would slip back to the shadows as the Trump candidacy faded.
We are 10 days from the party conventions, and Mr. Trump sits, uneasily as always, close to the polling margin of error against the former Secretary of State, former U.S. senator and former first lady Hillary Clinton. The Trumpen proletariat turns out to be bigger than imagined.
In the nonstop conversation about the 2016 election, the question at the center of everything is whether one is a “Trump supporter.” But if it is true that in this election all the rules have been broken, couldn’t it also be true that Donald Trump has himself become a bystander to the forces set in motion this year?
Mr. Trump has raised very little money, is still pouring the foundation for a campaign organization and faces a determined, billion-dollar Democratic Party machine. Once a month, he slanders reality with backhanded admiration for mass murderers such as Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Un.
And yet he stands. This election must be about something else.
It is a reckoning, a final settling of accounts and grievances going way back. This isn’t about Republicans versus Democrats. It’s the gunfight at the OK Corral, between the Earps and the Clantons. It’s a street fight about what have become irreconcilable views of America.
Undeniably, economic anxiety over flatlined incomes and the sense of economic loss, blamed variously on globalization or immigrants, explains a lot in this election. But not all of it. A Trump doesn’t rise without stronger forces in play.
That force has been described, including by me, as the revolt of the politically incorrect. PC, though, is just the symptom of a more virulent social disease.
The U.S. has been through culture wars before, as with the religious right in the 1980s and ’90s. Or the smart set in the 1920s. The country, ever resilient, eventually adjusts and moves on.
Political correctness added something new to the cultural divide: moral condescension.
What has really “angered” so many more millions who now feel drawn into the Trump camp isn’t just PC itself but that its proponents show such relentless moral contempt and superiority toward everyone else. People in America can take a lot, but not that. Marx would have a field day with how progressivism’s cultural elites have reordered social classes between the right-minded and everyone else.
Despite years of winning Supreme Court assent to their views, the left insists that the other side must remain on the moral hook. On race, sex or the environment the moralistic left seems to think it can keep the population incarcerated forever on vague, unproven charges of cultural guilt. For what?
In nearly eight years of presidential speeches, Barack Obama, by explicit choice, has come to embody the holier-than-thou idea of showing secular moral contempt for those who disagree with him.
As his inheritor, Hillary Clinton will bear the brunt of an energized Trumpen proletariat that suddenly finds moral demotion as something they no longer have to bear. That the mercurial Donald Trump has occupied both sides of this conflict and then some is, after all these years, beside the point.