This article was first published on SLL March 3. It received more comments than almost any article SLL has posted. Two days before the election, a repost is appropriate.
It started in Vietnam. The men who chose to fight for America on Vietnam’s front lines did so for honorable reasons. While there was no immediate threat to the US, some were concerned about falling dominoes and the march of communism. Some were animated by an idealistic desire to secure democracy and liberty in a land that had never known those blessings. Some went believing that if the leaders of the country said this war was in America’s best interests, it must be so. For those who were drafted, they did, perhaps reluctantly, what they perceived to be their duty.
Whatever their motivations, those who fought found their idealism shattered. Many of the South Vietnamese they thought they were fighting “for” despised the US as the latest in a succession of imperial powers using a corrupt, puppet government as the cat’s paw for its domination. Short of total immolation of both friend and foe—it was often impossible to differentiate the two—there was no effective strategy against guerrilla warfare waged by the enemy fighting on its home turf. The Viet Cong proved as difficult to vanquish as hordes of ants and mosquitos at a picnic. The victory the generals and politicians insisted was just another few months and troop deployments down the road never came, and the soldiers knew it never would, long before reality was acknowledged and the troops brought home.
Brutal disillusionment gave way to abject disgust when they returned stateside. They cynically, but understandably, concluded that the antiwar protests had more to do with fear of the draft (there were no major protests after Nixon ended it), and readily available sex and drugs than heartfelt opposition to the war. That conclusion was buttressed by their reception from the antiwar crowd. If they were expecting support and understanding, they didn’t get it. The US victims of the war, those who fought it—the wounded, the physically and psychologically maimed, the dead—were branded as subhuman thugs and baby killers. It was the first time in the history of the US that a substantial swath of the population turned on those who had fought its wars. Those who fought regarded (or, in the case of the dead, would have regarded) those doing the branding as preening, posturing, spoiled children. A subterranean fault line split into a gaping fissure, since widened to a yawning chasm.
The idea that the elite—by dint of their education, intelligence, rarified social circle, and moral sensibility— should rule had reached full florescence during the New Deal, when FDR and his so-called brain trust promised change that most Americans could believe in. Although the elite failed, prolonging the Great Depression, it seemingly redeemed itself directing World War II, leaving the US at an unprecedented pinnacle of global power. Forgetting the failures of the Depression and basking in the hubristic glow, a bipartisan coterie from Washington, Wall Street, industry, the military, and the Ivy League set out to order the world according to their dictates. The US would lead a confederated empire opposing the Soviet alliance. The epochal nature of the struggle justified, in their minds, whatever means were necessary to wage it, including propaganda, espionage, subversion, regime change, and war.
While the Kennedy assassination offered the American public a glimpse into the heart of darkness, only a few independent-minded skeptics challenged the Warren Commission whitewash. Vietnam was different; hundreds of thousands returned knowing not just that the so-called best and brightest couldn’t win the war, but that for years they had lied to the American public. In the following decades, it had to have been especially galling for the Vietnam veterans that the hippies, draft-deferred campus protesters, the “fortunate sons” (google Credence Clearwater Revival) whose numbers never came up, and the mockers of the values they held dear ended up among the elite. The Clintons, of course, became the prime example.
Disaffected veterans were the core of a group that would grow to millions, their “faith” in government and the people who ran it obliterated by its repeated failures and lies. Revolutions dawn when an appreciable number of the ruled realize their rulers are intellectual and moral inferiors. The mainstream media is filled with vituperative, patronizing, and insulting explanations of what’s “behind” the Trump phenomenon. It all boils down to revulsion with the self-anointed, incompetent, pretentious, hypocritical, corrupt, prevaricating elite that presumes to rule this country. It is, in a word, inferior to the populace on the other side of the yawning chasm, the ones they have patronized and insulted for decades, and the other side knows it.
Peggy Noonan is one of the few mainstream writers who has tried to understand, rather than insult or condemn, the Trump phenomenon. In a widely cited article, she ascribed it to the split between the “protected,” those who run the government and its allied institutions, and the “unprotected,” the government’s and its allies’ victims (“Trump and the Rise of the Unprotected,” The Wall Street Journal, 2/25/16). It was a nice try, but Ms. Noonan is attempting to straddle a chasm that cannot be straddled. She writes for the Journal, an establishment organ, some of whose writers have been either so clueless or disingenuous that they have denied the existence of an establishment. And ultimately, the protected-unprotected differentiation doesn’t fly.
Most Trump supporters don’t want the government to do something for them; they want the government to quit doing things to them. They viscerally revile the elite—it’s personal—and they want no part of that class or its government. They know how to take care of themselves, and many know the government hurts the most those whom it ostensibly protects.
Elite sons and daughters have not been in the ranks of front line military that have fought the elite’s disastrous wars. The top and bottom of the service economy swell—lobbyists, political operatives, debt merchants, Internet wizards, lawyers, bureaucrats, waiters, bartenders, nurses, orderlies, sales clerks—while what used to be the heart of the economy—manufacturing—shrinks. The bailouts from the last financial crisis went to Wall Street, not the homeowners with underwater mortgages facing foreclosure. Whose pockets were picked to fund those bailouts? And whose pockets were picked to pay the higher insurance premiums necessary to fund the Obamacare disaster?
It doesn’t take an Ivy League degree to know that the national debt, $19 trillion and counting, is a big, scary number, and that the unfunded Social Security and medical care liabilities coming due are even bigger, scarier numbers. It does, apparently, take an Ivy League degree to believe that more debt is the answer to our economic problems, or that microscopic or negative interest rates will do anything but fund carry-trade speculators and screw those trying to fund their own postponed retirements, or that the limping economy since the financial crisis has “recovered.” Idiotic blather fills the elite, mainstream media, while much truth is suppressed and debate stifled in the name of political correctness.
Not much has changed since Vietnam. The decent besieged are taking fire from all sides, valiantly fighting their way through it, while preening, posturing, spoiled idiots congratulate themselves for running a once great country into the ground. It is a mark of the decent besieged’s decency that they are turning to the ballot box, the politically correct way to change a democratic government. The idiot class should be grateful for their forbearance. Instead, it resorts to means fair and foul to subvert them and maintain its power. Whether Trump does or does not make it all the way to the White House, the wave he’s riding will only grow stronger, tsunami-strength when the economy collapses and the world descends into war. If the idiot class and its rabble subvert him, a quote from John F. Kennedy, recently featured on SLL, will surely come back to haunt them.
Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.
ANOTHER KIND OF REVOLUTION,
ANOTHER KIND OF NOVEL