Photograph by Sharon Schuster
ON DONALD TRUMP
This year I witnessed occupy Washington Square Park to hear him speak and saw Black Lives Matter protestersshut down city streets, declaring, “This is what democracy looks like.” And, travelling to America’s whitest communities in recent years, I’ve seen protests against immigration and taxes, a precursor to Trump supporters who denounce our “rigged” economy and elections.
Christopher Lasch’s ornery 1994 book The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy illuminates this election. An increasingly global, mobile and craven class, Lasch contended, isolates itself in its social networks and physical cocoons, a flight not only from daily experience in public spaces but a political abandonment of the working and middle class that also betrays basic democratic practices and values. Though they differ in temperament and outlook, both and Hillary Clinton personify versions of Lasch’s self-protecting privileged class, whose careers and lives contribute to the breakdown of an inclusive, national democratic culture.
Were he alive, Lasch might eviscerate these two very different elites, beholden to different privileged interests yet nonetheless falling over themselves to champion the “common” person. His book offers an implicit explanation of the elite’s cynical exploitation of “ordinary” people and the popular cynicism toward the elite. Lasch’s book presciently exposes the hypocrisy of Trump’s candidacy. A property developer who made a fortune from luxury condos and golf courses, Trump now presents himself as the voice of the silenced white masses. A onetime Democrat whose primary political allegiance is to himself, Trump precisely embodies the selfish elite Lasch dissected in the 80s and 90s.
The physical segregation of Americans into economically or racially homogenous communities has its counterpart in the subdivision of our discussions and opinions. Roughly $7.5bn (£5.7bn) will be spent on this election, the vast majority raised from the corporatised donor class. “The unreal artificial character of our politics reflects elites’ insulation from common life,” Lasch wrote, “together with a secret conviction that the real problems are insoluble.” Campaign chatter inundates us on social media, but dumb memes are no substitute for incisive information, rigorous analysis, or meaningful debate. Effectively excluded from public debate, most Americans no longer have any use for the information inflicted on them in such large amounts. Wealth, false choices and Trump himself devour the coverage. Lasch concluded: “When money talks, everybody else is condemned to listen.”
• Rich Benjamin is author of Searching for (Hachette).