For whom Trump tolls?

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Kathleen Parker

— Perus­ing the wires on a dead­line morn, I was struck by a con­stel­la­tion of in­tel­lec­tu­als strug­gling to trans­late the rel­a­tive mean­ings of Brexit, Don­ald Trump and the West’s pop­ulist surge against elites.

At least three bright fel­lows caught my eye: colum­nist Ross Douthat of The New York Times; Daniel Drezner, pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics at Tufts Univer­sity and a Washington Post blog­ger; and New Yorker writer Ge­orge Saun­ders. I’m grate­ful to each for his con­tri­bu­tion to this col­umn.

Study­ing the indigenous peo­ples is chin­stroking, good fun, no doubt about it. I like to dab­ble now and then my­self. But read­ing th­ese dissections of “the other” — mean­ing not Mus­lims but the mostly white Amer­i­cans who at­tend Trump ral­lies and who voted “leave” across the pond — sug­gests a clue in that the dis­till­ing process it­self sort of ex­plains what the writ­ers are try­ing to ar­tic­u­late.

This re­minds me of a ques­tion I was asked sev­eral years ago as a pan­elist at a na­tional ed­i­tors’ con­fab:

“Kathleen,” the mod­er­a­tor be­gan in a mus­tache-tweak­ing tone, “Do you think to­day’s jour­nal­ists are too elite for ‘or­di­nary Amer­i­cans’?”

“Ahem, well, I think the an­swer is im­plicit in the ques­tion,” I replied.

Of course, opinion writ­ers have to write about some­thing, don’t we? Thus, Douthat got things rolling with a re­cent col­umn ob­serv­ing that the left/right, lib­eral/con­ser­va­tive tem­plate is be­ing re­placed with a new di­vide. In West­ern democ­ra­cies, wrote Douthat, the di­vide will be be­tween glob­al­ists (whom he la­bels “cos­mopoli­tans,” even if, he says, they’re not re­ally) and na­tivists.

Dis­sect­ing Douthat’s dis­sec­tion, Drezner agreed up to a point, but sug­gested that one could as eas­ily re­place “na­tivist” with “old” and “cos­mopoli­tan” with “young.”

True enough. Older folks tend to like things the way they were “in the good ol’ days.” But Drezner’s point about the cos­mopoli­tan/young is true be­cause young peo­ple gen­er­ally tend to be more ad­ven­tur­ous and open to a larger world. This may be more true, how­ever, among ur­ban­ites and the ed­u­cated class who have had greater ex­po­sure to di­ver­sity, have trav­eled to exotic lo­cales, are flu­ent in eth­nic food, and may be more amenable to a glob­al­ist per­spec­tive.

In­deed, Drezner refers to a YouGov break­down of the Brexit vote: 75 per­cent of 18- to 24-year-olds voted to re­main, while only 39 per­cent of over-65 vot­ers did.

While we’re at it, why not break it down into ed­u­cated vs. poorly ed­u­cated, not that all Trump vot­ers are un­e­d­u­cated. And cer­tainly not that ed­u­cated peo­ple are nec­es­sar­ily smart or wise. But it was Trump, re­fer­ring to his fans, who said, “I love the poorly ed­u­cated.” When was the last time you heard a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date say that?

Douthat’s main point, which I’ve nec­es­sar­ily re­duced to a mere tea­spoon of sauce (or, God will­ing, a soup­con), was ba­si­cally that cos­mopoli­tans don’t un­der­stand peo­ple be­yond their cir­cuit of fel­low pro­fes­sion­als and, cru­cially, talk only to each other in es­sen­tially non-di­verse ways. Also true.

Wrap­ping up my morn­ing menu was Saun­ders’ amus­ing romp through Trum­p­land to learn just who th­ese peo­ple are who sup­port Trump. He came as a re­porter but seems more like an an­thro­pol­o­gist on a vir­gin foray into the “out yon­der.” He might as well have been study­ing the mat­ing rit­u­als of honey bad­gers. Per­haps he was!

Reel­ing from snarling con­fronta­tions be­tween Trump­ies and pro­test­ers, Saun­ders es­caped across the av­enue to an “Old Mex­ico”-themed mini-mall where, to his sur­pris­ing so­lace, a wed­ding was about to be­gin, fea­tur­ing brides­maids prom­e­nad­ing, each with a dog on a leash and wear­ing a tutu. As re­al­ity goes, I’d take the lat­ter, too.

Over the next many months, mil­lions more words will be ded­i­cated to sum­ma­riz­ing the hearts and minds of Brex­iters and Trump­ists, none of whom will likely read the words they in­spired. Or, if they do, they’ll feel fur­ther val­i­dated in their mis­sion to elect Trump. Be­sides, they know who they are and what they’re up to, which I can say with some au­thor­ity hav­ing ac­tu­ally lived among “or­di­nary Amer­i­cans.”

High on the list is stick­ing it to guys who like to ride their horses high, sneer­ing down their mois­tur­ized noses, note­books aloft and pens poised in the be­lief that you need a th­e­saurus and a graph­ing app to un­der­stand hu­man na­ture.

Trump, by con­trast, treats them with re­spect. He may be a pompous, ar­ro­gant, bom­bas­tic ass, but he’s their ass and, most im­por­tant, they share a com­mon en­emy — the rest of us.

You can take that sum­ma­tion to the bank — and put a tutu on it.

Kathleen Parker is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact her at kath­leen­parker@wash­post.com.

WASHINGTON

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