Quote of the Day:
Trump is the president of the United States, as he often reminds himself. And yet his status anxiety — about his intelligence, his competence, his attractiveness, his health, his net worth and his victory in 2016 — is deafening. Perhaps his voters, because they fear they lack education or small talk or grace with hors d’oeuvres plates, also feel left out of some mythic cocktail party. Maybe they identify with his impulse to overcompensate.
–Liberal journalist Virginia Heffernan in the Los Angeles Times
Good grief. That is how a stalwart of mainstream journalism views not only Donald Trump but the people who voted for him: lacking in education or the grace to engage in small talk over pick-up foods. And these voters feel so bad about themselves, according to Ms. Heffernan, that they overcompensate.
Ms. Heffernan views Mr. Trump and his voters solely in terms of status anxiety, which she assumes to be rampant. She develops her theory not by going out and meeting Trump voters.
Instead of talking to actual people Heffernan bases her conclusions on Trump's reality show, The Apprentice. The Apprentice, you see, was about competition between street smart people and people who had been to college and had a degree. It routinely pitted the degreed against the non-degreed.
Ms. Heffernan has an interesting take on what it is like not to have a college degree:
But what the heck does college really provide people that so decisively affects their worldview?
That’s the wrong question: It’s what not having a college degree does to you. Without a degree, you spend a lot of time thinking about what people with a degree have that you don’t: the keys to some fabulous kingdom. And it messes with your mind.
A component of the paranoid resentment that many Trumpites have for “libs” may be part and parcel of the grudge kindled by the fear that, without a college diploma, they must always prove themselves.
So for Ms. Heffernan people voted for Trump because they are envy people like herself. Leaving aside that I know a lot of well-educated people, people who can finesse cocktail parties who voted for Trump, I can only say: what incredible, breathtaking snobbery.
How odd to view your college degree largely in terms of the envy you (fondly) imagine it generates among those you regard as lesser members of society.
F.H. Buckley has written about the elite disdain for people they (erroneously?) regard as their inferiors. It is a distressing genre. Here is how one of his columns ended:
How very different [the current elite view] was from the older literature of poverty in America, James Agee’s “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” or Michael Harrington’s “The Other America.” The earlier writers described the poor with compassion, as fellow Americans.
They were the Joads in “The Grapes of Wrath,” honorable people down on their luck. There was no sense of moral superiority in this literature, even with those who might have brought their poverty on themselves. The desperately poor were broken in body and spirit, and while they didn’t belong to anyone or anything, they still were our brothers with whom we shared a common humanity and citizenship. If they lived their lives at levels “beneath those necessary for human decency,” we were called upon to do something about it. In Mr. Harrington’s case, that had meant living with them in one of Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker hospices, not an experience any of the purveyors of redneck porn will have shared.
So unlike Walker Evans and James Agee (a literary hero of my adolescence), many mainstream journalists today don't deign to go talk to people.
I am going to give Ms. Heffernan the benefit of the doubt–if she had formed an opinion of her fellow Americans by talking to them instead of theorizing from old The Apprentice shows, she might have been pleasantly surprised.
One other thing needs to be said: a college degree isn't what it used to be. I see a lot of non-elite people worrying about the quality of American education and establishing charter or parochial schools or homeschooling their kids to make sure they get the kind of classical education we once associated with a college degree.
Now, it almost seems that a college degree is more about snobbery than being an educated person.