Special Report

On the Elites and Counter-Elites: What Makes an Elite?

On the Elites and Counter-Elites (full series)
WEIRD | Polling the Elites | What Makes an Elite?
The Elites and California Disease | Whither the Counter-Elite?

What Makes an Elite?

The Committee to Unleash Prosperity polling leaves some questions unanswered. First, it defines elites by lumping together two strongly Democratic-leaning demographics: dense urbanites and the overeducated. It would be worthwhile to examine the independent effects that being a high-income dense urbanite and a high-income postgraduate have on one’s political opinions relative to the national mean.

The third element CtUP used to define the elites, those with high incomes, is not as liberal as the other two. Indeed, the high-income voting bloc might not even be liberal at all. In 2022 exit polls of the national vote for the U.S. House of Representatives, voters self-reporting incomes above $200,000 voted Republican 58 percent to 41 percent. This suggests the existence of a “counter-elite” that does not derive its standing from living in a major, midnight-blue-except-for-Miami city and from indoctrination by overexposure to the university system, but rather from capitalist economic success. Think of car dealers, franchise-business owners, contractors, and similar occupations.

There are substantial policy implications from this. If income does not make an “elite” a nutty WEIRD leftist, but urban status and overeducation do, then endorsing left-wing, supposedly “working-class” economic policy like sectoral labor bargaining or vast increases in central planning to create make-work jobs like Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal all over again would not only be bad policy, it would also be bad politics for conservatives derived from a failure to understand who the Grill Dad Republican actually is.

Consider the possibility that the major ideological and elite-masses fault line is not, as it was for F. Scott Fitzgerald, old wealth or high income, but rather status-income disequilibrium. If the exit polling is correct, Republicans and conservatives typically have more money than their liberal and Democratic counterparts, but if the CtUP polling reflects a meaningful elite, they have less status.

For a thought-experiment model of this, think of the 2020 boat parades supporting then-President Donald Trump’s campaign. Owning a boat or boat-share is not cheap, and the press mocked the Republican rallies at the time. Meanwhile Democrats and liberals appear to have more status than money, as exemplified by the journalists who did the mocking. (Journalists have an average annual salary of $57,500 per year according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.)

If WEIRD leftism is generated not by money but by the status-generating institutions of American life, this creates a problem for the Right. To obtain public office, positions in government bureaucracy, positions in business, or cultural influence, a person needs at least some status. So where can one obtain the status necessary to rise through the “ranks” of American life without turning into a leftist?

Regional business—franchised business ownership, contracting, real estate, car dealerships, professional agriculture, and so forth—can at least provide a right-of-center-inclined person with financial resources. The military has historically granted status to right-leaning people. “Little law” (regional-level lawyering as opposed to white-shoe firms and Big Corporate lawyering) and medicine have also been historical paths to status among right-leaning individuals. It should not be surprising that Republican U.S. Representatives, who may be taken as a sampling of “counter-elites,” tend to have backgrounds in regional business, the military, non-elite law, or medicine.

But these pathways are changing, in ways that illustrate how left-progressives have committed to controlling status-granting institutions. Medicine is starting to freeze out conservatives by two methods: The first is economic; the second social. Doctors are increasingly employees of large medical conglomerates, not owners of their own practices. In this way, they are increasingly managed like the historically left-wing white-collar professions of classroom teaching and journalism, including being subject to compulsory unionization.

Social control enters the medical profession through the increasing radical-left political coordination of medical education, the bleeding edges of which have been reported on by outlets such as the Washington Free Beacon. In late 2022, the right-leaning outlet reported on a report from the Association of American Medical Colleges:

Forty-four percent of medical schools have tenure and promotion policies that reward scholarship on “diversity, inclusion, and equity.” Seventy percent make students take a course on “diversity, inclusion, or cultural competence.” And 79 percent require that all hiring committees receive “unconscious bias” training or include “equity advisors”—people whose job it is to ensure diversity among the faculty.

At the ground level, the Free Beacon has reported extensively on the mandatory “Structural Racism and Health Equity” course at UCLA, which compelled future doctors to read essays that were written by a “fat liberationist” and that expound “‘anti-capitalist politics’ as a principle of ‘disability justice.’” It also compelled future doctors to attend a lecture by a radical-left activist who called for “Free Palestine,” denounced the supposed colonization of “Turtle Island” (a radical-leftist term for the supposedly “occupied” United States), and offered “non-secular prayer” to “mama earth.”

The effect of such required coursework is to create a hostile environment for prospective physicians who are not on the radical left. One must interrogate the possibility that creating that hostile environment is such a requirement’s intention. Should one or two nonradicals hold their tongues and slip through such political education to an M.D. unmolested, the unionization of their corporate medical practice will keep them funding and under the “political education” of the institutional Left.

Any postgraduate track to counter-elite status, not just medical education, will be threatened by open ideological gatekeeping in higher education. This comes in the form of compulsory unionization of graduate students, DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) application statements, identity-related courses required for graduation, and requirements for public DEI pledges—all of which serve to promote ideological coordination under the left-wing elite.

So where will right-leaning elites come from? The Right will always have local and regional businesspeople, unless the Right foolishly drives them away deliberately. (For evidence of this, see the political giving of the National Federation of Independent Business, which is and has been overwhelmingly Republican.) Likewise, labor union officials are almost certain to remain partisans of Everything Leftism, regardless of the Right’s approach to labor relations.

Explicitly conservative institutions will try to form counter-elites. The most prominent example is likely House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), a lawyer and alumnus of the social-conservative public interest law firm Alliance Defending Freedom. This is necessary and important, but there are risks in investing too deeply into explicit counter-institutions as the sole pipeline for counter-elite formation. The chief risk is the right-wing species of “California Disease,” an affliction widespread among political elites that promotes a false idea of how demographic change changed the Golden State, and how future, similar changes could change American politics.

In the next installment, California Disease—the view that “the Demographics are coming for us,”—is a common affliction on the right.

Michael Watson

Michael is Research Director for Capital Research Center and serves as the managing editor for InfluenceWatch. A graduate of the College of William and Mary, he previously worked for a…
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