Aspen Ideas: Raise your hand if you’re a ‘coastal elite’
June 30, 2018
To illustrate the vast and widening class divide in the U.S. and its political ramifications, the authors of two definitive Donald Trump era books simply pointed to the evidence in the audience at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Friday morning.
"Hillbilly Elegy" author J.D. Vance asked members of the crowd at the Hotel Jerome to raise their hands if they had a passport. Nearly everyone in the packed hotel ballroom raised a hand.
"Virtually nobody in my hometown and, in fact, a majority of white voters do not have a passport," the author noted.
Amy Chua, author "Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations," walked the audience through the emergence of what she calls a "market dominant majority" in the U.S. — a phenomenon she studied in developing nations like Venezuela before she saw it happen in the U.S. — where an educated elite loses political power.
"Who am I referring to? Coastal elites," Chua said. "It's a misnomer because they're not all coastal and they're not all elite — in that they're not all wealthy, not all white — but basically I'm talking about the people in this room."
The Trump phenomenon is not at all unique, she observed, and is part of a pattern of political newcomers and demagogues getting elected by inspiring a less educated and less privileged majority to vote against the elite.
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Vance noted how out of touch Americans currently are with their countrymen on the other side of the cultural divide.
"If you're on this side of the divide, its sometimes hard to notice just how different these two groups of people have become in the last 30 or 40 years," Vance said. "Think about the types of restaurants people are eating at, the television shows people are watching, the movies people are watching. The types of places people visit."
Chua has been a mentor to Vance and was his law school professor at Yale. She said "Hillbilly Elegy" — now in its 80th week on the New York Times bestseller list — actually began as an email to her and as a paper in one of her classes.
Chua noted that she's observed, in recent years, the development of a "scorched earth liberalism" on campus and beyond that defines America completely differently than conservatives do — viewing the country as fundamentally racist and corrupt from its founding. That movement on the left, both authors agreed, is only dividing the country further apart and more bitterly.
"The argument 'We're an aspirational nation, we need to live up to these really high ideals,' that's persuasive to people that I grew up with back home," said Vance. "The (argument) 'This is a genocidal nation, it's not worth saving' — that's not just not persuasive, it actually pushes people further from any kind of liberal or leftist politics. … It's just not a politically viable project in my view."