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On the Elites and Counter-Elites: Whither the Counter-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?

Whither the Counter-Elite?

If a Left afflicted with California Disease risks overreach that hands Republicans improbable victories (the 2016 Presidential election being the paradigmatic example), a Right afflicted with California Disease risks alienating the “normal center.” The pseudonymous internet personality “Edmund Smirk” defines “Swiftian Normality” (after the recording artist Taylor Swift, whom he claims exemplifies the concept) as follows:

Swiftian Normality is an elusive, vibes-based idea; however, it can be roughly defined as inoffensive, law-abiding, upwardly-mobile, middle-class culture. Just imagine everything that makes the American Dream possible, and exactly what the nouveau régime—which worships at the altars of “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion”—wants to destroy.

The real-world Swift, to the extent her politics are known, appears to be an ordinary but not particularly involved Democrat, based on her occasional political endorsements (most notably of unsuccessful 2018 Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Phil Bredesen of Tennessee). But the “normal center” to which one might apply the “inoffensive, law-abiding, upwardly-mobile, middle-class culture” tag should not be lost to conservatives.

But the “normal center” will be lost if conservative elites indulge California Disease. Likewise, the “normal center” will not necessarily be gained if conservative elites indulge the other blue-state error, me-too-ism of whatever species, be it the older social-liberal-fiscal-conservative-ish-but-not-really Rockefeller Republicanism or the “New Right” social-conservative-fiscal-progressivism models endorsed by the “postliberal” movement or American Compass, the “conservative” think tank funded by institutional progressivism.

Overcoming California Disease and securing the “normal center” will require conservative elites and policymakers, and the institutions that form them, to devise approaches that deal with the world as it is. Smarter, more effective conservative policymakers and activists such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Manhattan Institute activist Chris Rufo, or American Federation for Children activist Corey DeAngelis do not retreat to radical, despaired argumentation even when pursuing issues of concern to those who might otherwise be inclined to Demographics-related despair, like restricting the teaching of critical race theory or promoting border control. Notably, DeSantis’s abortive presidential effort was hamstrung by messaging that was arguably more despairing than the messaging of his Florida government.

And that raises an unlikely figure who threatens both forms of California Disease. Former President Donald Trump is a unique figure, but one thing is clear: The political coalitions of his first two presidential elections were not affirmations of the “Demographics are destiny” thesis underpinning California Disease. Confident predictions by liberals and centrists from 2016 that Trump would become a Barry Goldwater–style demon-figure tying Latinos to the Democrats by overwhelming margins and further deepening the alliance between Democrats and Black Americans were explicitly refuted by the 2020 election returns.

Even in defeat, President Trump had swung majority-Latino Miami-Dade County from an overwhelming defeat to a single-digit margin, helping him expand on his 2016 margin in the state. He swung the Rio Grande Valley, a Democratic bastion in Texas, into two-party competition. As he campaigns for his old job, polls—which may be wrong in either direction—consistently suggest Trump may be making inroads with Black voters, especially men. While he will not win them outright, younger African Americans may not prove as loyal to the Party of Obama as their parents and grandparents.

Events are further scrambling the Demographics. For how long can American Jews and Muslim immigrants live comfortably under the same political roof, especially when Israel’s conflicts with Iran-backed militant factions are high in public salience? Even if American Jews don’t politically defect anytime soon, their influence within elite-formation institutions threatens the power of DEI bureaucracies, which would be a boon to conservative counter-elite formation. Interest rate hikes have made left-wing ideological signaling in business more costly, hurting ESG (environmental, social, and governance) movements and that wing of left-wing elite politics. Even turning the “demographic dials” by border nonenforcement (or explicitly encouraging illegal immigration) risks backlash from the Demographics themselves, as the shock arrival of two-party competition to the Rio Grande Valley in 2020 and beyond illustrates.

Conservatives could still blow it if they indulge the impulse to despair. The lesson of what we are forced to call the “Trump era” is not that “tomorrow belongs to us”—President Trump lost in 2020, whatever complaints one might have about the administration of that election—but rather that nothing is determined, and everything is up for grabs.

Whichever elite class resists the temptation of California Disease is going to have a big advantage in claiming the future.

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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