When German Chancellor Angela Merkel unilaterally made a decision that Germany would take in an astonishing 800,000 immigrants from Muslim countries, she was acting on her own ideas about virtue, not those of her fellow citizens, who would bear the brunt of her pieties. As Peggy Noonan observes  this morning in the Wall Street Journal:

Ms. Merkel had put the entire burden of a huge cultural change not on herself and those like her but on regular people who live closer to the edge, who do not have the resources to meet the burden, who have no particular protection or money or connections. Ms. Merkel, her cabinet and government, the media and cultural apparatus that lauded her decision were not in the least affected by it and likely never would be.

Nothing in their lives will get worse. The challenge of integrating different cultures, negotiating daily tensions, dealing with crime and extremism and fearfulness on the street—that was put on those with comparatively little, whom I’ve called the unprotected. They were left to struggle, not gradually and over the years but suddenly and in an air of ongoing crisis that shows no signs of ending—because nobody cares about them enough to stop it.

The powerful show no particular sign of worrying about any of this. When the working and middle class pushed back in shocked indignation, the people on top called them “xenophobic,” “narrow-minded,” “racist.” The detached, who made the decisions and bore none of the costs, got to be called “humanist,” “compassionate,” and “hero of human rights.”

When hundreds of these young men, from cultures that devalue women and don't allow them to wear western clothes, attacked women at Cologne last New Years' Day (to be followed other attacks), Ms. Merkel urged her fellow citizens to “master the flip side, the shadow side, of all the positive effects of globalization.”

Ms. Merkel, in other words, as Noonan observes, was detached from the Germans who faced the on-the-ground realities brought about by the chancellor's "virtue signaling."  

We have similar detached elites in the U.S. The wealthy of Hollywood can, for example, protect their own children from the cultural decay their movies put on the screen. Wall Street, which once produced national leaders,  thinks globally, according to Noonan, and doesn't really think about the United States. Nor is "the national interest" a governing concept in Silicon Valley.

Noonan doesn't cite them as examples but Barack Obama's "bitter clingers" remark and Nancy Pelosi's contention that white men without a college degree vote for Republicans because of "gays, guns, and God" (the third defined as the abortion issue) are prime examples of looking down on one's fellow citizens. Noonan writes:

From what I’ve seen of those in power throughout business and politics now, the people of your country are not your countrymen, they’re aliens whose bizarre emotions you must attempt occasionally to anticipate and manage.

In Manhattan, my little island off the continent, I see the children of the global business elite marry each other and settle in London or New York or Mumbai. They send their children to the same schools and are alert to all class markers. And those elites, of Mumbai and Manhattan, do not often identify with, or see a connection to or an obligation toward, the rough, struggling people who live at the bottom in their countries. In fact, they fear them, and often devise ways, when home, of not having their wealth and worldly success fully noticed.

Affluence detaches, power adds distance to experience. I don’t have it fully right in my mind but something big is happening here with this division between the leaders and the led. It is very much a feature of our age. But it is odd that our elites have abandoned or are abandoning the idea that they belong to a country, that they have ties that bring responsibilities, that they should feel loyalty to their people or, at the very least, a grounded respect.

Noonan closes with the story (reported by the Daily Caller’s Peter Hasson but ignored by the mainstream media) that recent Syrian refugees are being settled in the poorest communities in the state of Virginia. Almost all Syrian refugees since October have, according to information from the U.S. Department of State, “have been placed in towns with lower incomes and higher poverty rates, hours away from the wealthy suburbs outside of Washington, D.C.” Most (121 refugees) are placed in poor communities, at least a hundred miles from Washington. Nine refugees have been placed in the wealthy counties of Fairfax, Loudoun and Arlington—places members of the media and others with global elite values live.

Some of the detachment isn’t unconscious. Some of it is sheer and clever self-protection. At least on some level they can take care of their own.

But nothing stops them from virtue signaling at the expense of the disdained.   

Still confused about why Donald Trump generated so much loyalty during the primaries?