Large percentages of the population now work for government — federal, state, or local. Millions more are divorced from the tragic world of mining or drilling where nature is unforgiving. That distance has allowed Americans in droves to disengage from both the private sector, where one either makes a profit or goes broke, and the grimy processes by which we live one more day. A San Francisco professor, a Monterey lawyer, and a Sacramento bureaucrat do not know how hard it is to raise beef, grow peaches, find and pump oil and gas, and haul logs out of the forest and into Home Depot as smooth lumber, or what it takes to build a small Ace Hardware business. The skills needed to keep a 7-Eleven viable in a rough neighborhood, I confess, dwarf those of the classics professor.
In the elite liberal mind, there is instead a sort of progressive Big Rock Candy Mountain. Gasoline comes right out of the ground through the nozzle into the car. Redwood 2x4s sprout from the ground like trees. Apples fall like hail from the sky; stainless steel refrigerator doors are mined inches from the surface. Tap water comes from some enormous cistern that traps rain water. Finished granite counter tops materialize on the show room floor. Why, then, would we need Neanderthal things like federal gas and oil leases, icky dams and canals, yucky power plants, and gross chain saws — and especially those who would dare make and use them?
Anger, envy, and the primordial emotions
For some, especially those who are well-educated and well-spoken, a sort of irrational furor at “the system” governs their political make-up. Why don’t degrees and vocabulary always translate into big money? Why does sophisticated pontification at Starbucks earn less than mindlessly doing accounting behind a desk? We saw this tension with Michelle Obama who, prior to 2009, did not quite have enough capital to get to Aspen or Costa del Sol, and thereby, despite the huge power-couple salaries, Chicago mansion, and career titles, felt that others had far too much more than the Obamas. “Never been proud,” “downright mean country,” “raise the bar,” etc., followed, as expressions of yuppie angst. The more one gets, the more one believes he should get even more, and the angrier he gets that another — less charismatic, less well-read, less well-spoken — always seems to get more.
So do not discount the envy of the sophisticated elite. The unread coal plant manager, the crass car dealer, or the clueless mind who farms 1000 acres of almonds should not make more than the sociology professor, the kindergarten teacher, the writer, the artist, or the foundation officer. What sort of system would allow the dense and easily fooled to become better compensated (and all for what — for superfluous jet skis and snowmobiles?) than the anguished musician or tortured-soul artist, who gives so much to us and receives so much less in return? What a sick country — when someone who brings chain saws into the Sierra would make more than a UC Berkeley professor who would stop them.
Finally, we come to a small subset that simply does not like America’s wealth and capitalism, supremacy overseas, and ubiquitous global culture — or at least believes that anything not his own must be far better (an oikophobia or hatred of one’s own household). He bores us with lectures on the wonderful EU, the superior La familia romance of Latin America, the “it takes a village” values of Africa, or the Cairo speech mythologies of the Middle East. Because America is so affluent, it allows so many the luxury to dream of how our wealth is so ill-gotten — as long as quiet others in the shadows ensure that life remains pretty good in San Francisco and Madison. Contrarianism is an innate characteristic, but one indulged without risk, only when the larger tribe is safe and secure.
In short, twenty-first century elite liberalism has become a psychological condition, not a serious blueprint on how to solve real problems. The president knows that — and so without ideas has been reduced to name-calling and sermons on Big Bird.