November 15, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, November 15, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Geography, demographics, and worldview: Sorting through the aftermath of the 2016 election
Some of the most interesting material demanding worldview analysis right now is in the aftermath of the election asking the question not what, but why? That why question is perplexing people across the political spectrum. And inevitably this raises a host of issues that can only be addressed at the level of worldview. So it’s really interesting that the Wall Street Journal, going into the weekend, ran not one but several different explanations of what just might have happened. One of them was offered in an article by Reihan Salam in which he said that the election of Donald Trump means effectively that Richard Nixon lives again. Salam was not pointing to the Watergate scandal or to any character issue, he was instead pointing to the fact that when Richard Nixon won the White House in 1968, and then won that massive landslide for reelection in 1972, it was because he had put together an unforeseen and, until that time undeveloped, majority he called the silent majority that put him in the White House.
It was a coalescence of historical conservative forces along with that great middle class that voted overwhelmingly for Richard Nixon, especially in 1972. The Journal also ran an article by labor historian Michael Kazin in which he argues that the election of Donald Trump points to the fact that organized labor has lost its political clout. However, a closer look at the election indicates that one of the reasons why so many of those Great Lakes states went to Donald Trump was because union voters voted for Trump. It wasn’t that the unions were invisible, it’s just that the grassroots members of those unions, albeit of course weaker as organizations than they were years ago, effectively voted against the leadership of their own unions.Show Full Transcript
Perhaps the most interesting of all in the Wall Street Journal trio of explanations of that offered by Walter Russell Mead, a distinguished fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., he argued that what the election of Trump represents is what he calls the Jacksonian revolt. He writes,
“The election of Donald Trump was a surprise and an upset, but the movement that he rode to the presidency has deep roots in American history. Mr. Trump’s strongest supporters are the 21st-century heirs of a political tendency that coalesced in the early 1820s around Andrew Jackson [otherwise known as Old Hickory].”
Now later in the article, Walter Russell Mead makes an extremely important statement. He writes,
“Social scientists and urban intellectuals have been predicting the death of Jacksonian America since the turn of the 20th century. Urbanization and immigration were the forces that observers like Woodrow Wilson and Walter Lippmann hoped would transform American popular culture into something less antagonistic to the rule of technocratic intellectuals ensconced in a powerful federal bureaucracy. This did not work out as planned.”
That’s a really important paragraph, because what Walter Russell Mead is arguing here is that liberals in the United States, trying to bring about a cosmopolitan culture, were convinced that eventually they would extinguish this Jacksonian impulse in American democracy. This means that what would be extinguished would be the populist strain and that Americans would basically come to terms, they would be domesticated in effect, in order to accept the rule of a federal bureaucracy that would be led by a technocratic group of intellectuals. As Walter Russell Mead said,
“[That] didn’t work out as planned.”
A review of other analysis coming out from all sides in the aftermath of the election points to the very cogency of Walter Russell Mead’s statement. Indeed what we can see in terms of the 2016 election is a massive vote by the center of the American people over against the elites, in particular, this kind of technocratic intellectual elite. If you’re looking for evidence of that, just consider headlines such as this in the New York Times,
“Pacific Coast Remains Blue in a Red Tide.”
Another headline, this one also in the New York Times, read,
“In Trump, Tech Leaders Fear Challenge to Vision.”
This article is by Farhad Manjoo in the State of the Art column. He writes of Shervin Pishevar, a venture capitalist at the firm Sherpa Capital who, just like “every leading light in tech, had strongly supported Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.”
“The horror, the horror. We didn’t do enough.”
He went on to say,
“There were too many people in the tech industry who were complacent. They waited and waited and waited to get engaged in this election. And now we have this nightmare.”
Well, it turns out that Silicon Valley considers the election of Donald Trump as nothing less than a nightmare. With the possible exception in terms of leadership by someone such as Peter Thiel, Silicon Valley was solidly behind the election of Hillary Clinton. And if they were frustrated with Clinton, it was not because she was too liberal, but because she wasn’t liberal enough. Manjoo explains,
“During the Obama years, Silicon Valley came to see itself as the economic and social engine of a new digital century. Smartphones and social networks became as important to world business as oil and the automobile, and Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft rose to become some of the most prosperous and valuable companies on the planet.”
Manjoo also points out that there was an extremely close relationship between the tech industry and Silicon Valley on the one hand, and President Obama and the Democratic leadership on the other. And that meant that Silicon Valley was betting highly, if not hugely, on the election of Hillary Clinton. Later in the article Manjoo wrote,
“In private, during the campaign, many tech leaders were positive that their vision would prevail over Mr. Trump’s. When asked about whether they were preparing in any way for a Trump victory, bigwigs at many of the industry’s leading tech and financial firms were bemused by the notion. They thought it would never happen.”
Manjoo went on to explain,
“The deeper worry is that tech is out of step with the national and global mood, and failed to recognize the social and economic anxieties roiling the nation — many of them hastened by the products the industry devises.”
In an even more important paragraph later in the article Manjoo wrote,
“It’s not clear that most Americans see technological progress as the unalloyed good that it is considered in Silicon Valley. Technology has pushed so deeply into people’s lives, changing how they work and go to school and raise their children, that it could well raise more fears than hopes. A new smartphone is nice, but perhaps not if it means that your trucking job will be replaced by a big rig that drives itself.”
Also included in this article is ample evidence by the conclusion that Silicon Valley doesn’t intend to change at all. Manjoo cites Mark Suster, identified as a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley, who said,
“Tech needs to take a deep breath, and then reflect on how this happened. And have policy proposals that can realistically address the inequality in our country.”
There’s no evidence in any part of this article that Silicon Valley has any idea what’s actually happened. But as interesting as that article is, it is the previous headline about the Pacific Coast remaining blue in a red tide that demonstrates something of the tremendous worldview divide that is increasingly apparent in America. The article is by Thomas Fuller, Jack Healy and Kirk Johnson. They write,
“The West Coast has long prided itself as an engine for reinvention and progressive ideals, distinct from the rest of the country. But after Tuesday’s election, the states bordering the Pacific Ocean feel increasingly like an island unto its own.”
“While large parts of the American electoral map, particularly in the industrial Rust Belt, turned more Republican in Tuesday’s election, California went more Democratic, with 61.5 percent of voters choosing Hillary Clinton, the highest percentage for a Democratic presidential nominee since the re-election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936.”
The article makes very clear that some in California, especially in the leadership elite of that state, are beginning to think of themselves as a nation unto themselves. This includes the state’s Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, the former Mayor of San Francisco. He said, speaking of California I remind you,
“We are a nation state.”
He went on to say,
“In so many ways, we are America, but we are just ahead of the curve.”
The reporters then say,
“The election of Mr. Trump prompted street protesters in the liberal bastions of California to call for secession from the union — and a promise from Shervin Pishevar, a Silicon Valley investor, to fund a #calexit campaign.”
That is the secession of California from the United States of America. The reporters write,
“A petition for Oregon to secede was filed with the Oregon secretary of state’s office on Thursday, allowing backers to start gathering signatures.”
The reporters in this article make very clear the deep divide between the heartland of this country and the two coasts and, in this case, particularly the West Coast. They write,
“In Oregon and Washington, Mrs. Clinton’s margin of victory was close to President Obama’s four years ago. She received about 73 percent of the vote in Oregon’s biggest urban county, Multnomah, which includes the Portland area — with most of the votes counted in an all-mail election.
“In Washington, the concentrations of blue intensified from the last presidential election. In King County, which includes Seattle and is the most populous in the state, Mrs. Clinton did better than Mr. Obama, with nearly three out of four residents voting for her, compared with 69 percent for Mr. Obama in 2012.
Mayor Ed Murray of Seattle, a Democrat, described his city in recent days as almost like a fortress under siege, scanning for attack on the ramparts. Fighting, he said — in defense or offense — seems inevitable.”
We’ve often pointed out on The Briefing that where one lives in the United States goes a great deal towards explaining how one will vote and how one sees the world. And there are progressive elites in terms of worldview who have coalesced in population centers on both sides of the country along the two coasts in particular. The closer one gets to the coast, the closer one gets to an academic campus, and the closer one gets to a major metropolitan area, the more liberal ones worldview tends to become. This is abundantly clear in terms of an electoral map of the United States, especially one that displays not only the states, but also going down to the level of counties. At that level it’s incredibly clear that you have a worldview divide in the United States not only between the heartland and the two coasts, but the two coasts themselves are a relatively thin population line right along the waterline. And in terms of inland counties, some of those are also very red matching the inland states of the United States.
Echoing this trend, Katie Zezima writing for the Washington Post going into the weekend, has an article entitled,
“While the country shifts to the right, California keeps moving left.”
“California has long been in the vanguard of American politics, routinely enacting liberal legislation and policies long before the rest of the nation and a hotbed of support for Democrats such as Hillary Clinton. But in the aftermath of an election in which the country as a whole shifted to the right, the Golden State is now out of step with the rest of the nation by moving even farther to the left.”
Kevin de Leon, the Democratic President Pro Tempore of the State Senate, said,
“In California, we are decisively going in a different direction than the rest of the country.”
Now what’s really important there is to realize that just a moment ago I cited the incumbent Lieutenant Governor of the state, now this is the Democratic President Pro Tempore of the California State Senate—both of them are very proudly saying that California is increasingly existing in opposition to the rest of the country.
At least twice in recent days the name of Shervin Pishevar has come up, this is the venture capitalist who has gone so far as to call for the secession of California from the union and has offered his willingness to lead a campaign to fund it. In a strange redefinition of patriotism, speaking of secession and even offering a name for what he says will be the new nation that is New California, he said,
“It’s the most patriotic thing I can do. The country is at a serious crossroads.”
At the level of worldview analysis, we simply have to note that this demonstrates the fact that on both sides of the worldview divide, there is an understanding of the importance of these issues. Here you’re talking about well-known venture capitalists and Silicon Valley leaders who were talking about seceding from the nation and, furthermore, you have statements coming close at least to this form of California nationalism in elected figures such as the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and also the state’s Lieutenant Governor.
Not after the election but in the lead up to the election, the New York Times had already run some very interesting reporting and analysis on the link between where one lives and how one votes.
Emily Badger, in that story entitled “Where’s your ideal place to live? The answer is political,” tells us that political scientists aren’t actually certain whether or not that one determines the other, or vice versa. This is something like the proverbial chicken and egg question. Do people who vote alike end up deciding to live close together or do people who live close together end up voting alike? The analysis in the New York Times suggests that there must be something of both forces at work, but a look at the actual data indicates that it must be more the fact that people who live together tend to vote together. There is not enough geographical mobility in the United States for the other force to be quite so significant.
According to the article by Emily Badger, liberals tend to prefer living in metropolitan areas close to academic campuses with rich cultural resources. They tend to be very happy living close to other people, whereas conservatives tend to like big sky and big open places, suburbs rather than metropolitan centers. One of the other factors that is pointed out here is that the people who are living in the cities are far less likely to have children, whereas those who live in rural and suburban areas are far more likely to be married, to have children, and to be more likely to be living under the same roof.
From the level of worldview analysis, and certainly from a worldview informed by the Christian biblical worldview that would be the far larger issue, it is well attested that those who are married tend to vote in a far more conservative way than those who are single. And those who are married and have children are even far more conservative than those who are you might say merely married. It turns out that being married and having children brings about a certain conservative instinct in terms of protecting those children and respecting the institutions of marriage and the family.
Hollywood in mourning: For America's cultural elites, election night was a disaster
When it comes to the cultural and intellectual elites in the United States, those elites are far more liberal than the rest of the country. They tend to be coalesced not only around the two coasts and metropolitan areas, but also around academic campuses and around the centers of cultural production. And one of those centers, of course, is none other than Hollywood. Accordingly, writing for USA Today, reporters Maria Puente and Bryan Alexander wrote,
“Hollywood plunged into mourning after the stunning election results.
The overwhelmingly pro-Democrat, Hillary Clinton-supporting industry town was reeling Wednesday from the world-altering news that the rest of the nation had spoken and elected Republican Donald J. Trump as U.S. president.”
What’s really, really interesting about that article is that it appears on the front page of the Life section, that is the style and entertainment section of USA Today. What’s also really striking about it is how the liberal bent of Hollywood is simply taken for granted. USA Today cites actor Tommy Chong as illustrative of Hollywood’s response.
They say that he “drove past neighbors Steven Spielberg’s and Ben Affleck’s homes in the tony Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles on his way to the airport Wednesday morning, says he could feel the depressed mood in the air.”
They cited him as saying,
“It’s this combination of shock, despair and sadness, and definitely anger.”
Chong went on to say that he “was personally pleased that Californians voted in a ballot measure to legalize marijuana for recreational use.”
“Thank God pot is legal now, so we have something that can get us through the next four years.” That was the actor chosen to speak for Hollywood.
Again, the most interesting aspect of this is how the liberal bent of Hollywood is simply taken for granted. And also taken for granted is the fact that that worldview becomes very much embedded, that political ideology becomes very apparent in the products that come out from the cultural and entertainment complex.
It turns out that this was particularly apparent in the 2016 cycle in the phenomenon of late-night comedy. Even in the days and weeks preceding the election, there was a great deal of attention to the incredibly bitter and sarcastic, not to say condescending, liberal bent of the late-night comedians that have, after all, an audience numbered in the multiple millions. Representative in terms of election night as the results came in, the New York Times reported on Stephen Colbert. Reporter Dave Itzkoff writes, when it was clear that,
“Mr. Trump was ‘now on the doorstep of 270 electoral votes,’ Mr. Colbert answered: ‘Wow. That’s a horrifying prospect. I can’t put a happy face on that, and that’s my job.’”
In that particularly rather candid response, the politically liberal Colbert was joined by most of his colleagues in late-night television, most especially perhaps and in the days before the election by Samantha Bee, who on her program had basically caustically dismissed all of the support for Donald Trump as being, in other words, deplorable.
Academic elites at Harvard reflect on radical ideological uniformity in wake of election
But other than Hollywood and the financial elites, it’s also clear that it was the academic elites who simply couldn’t believe that Donald Trump could have been elected President of the United States. Or to put it another way, they actually couldn’t believe that Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, could have lost.
In an amazingly candid response, the editorial board of The Crimson, that’s the campus newspaper of Harvard University—and here we should note it is edited primarily by students—the editors wrote,
“As students and professors continue to take stock of the results of Tuesday’s election, the ideological uniformity of much of Harvard’s population will no doubt dominate campus conversation. Honing in on Harvard’s undergraduates, The Crimson’s pre-election survey affirmed—to an extent—the College’s reputation as a liberal bastion. While we should use caution in using these results to make blanket assumptions about all academic and social contexts in which students discuss politics”—there’s a qualifier for you, I’ll inject; the reporters went on to say—“the survey points to an overall lack of ideological diversity that should concern faculty, administrators, and students alike, especially at this moment in our history.”
As I said, this is an amazingly candid and honest assessment. It’s also painfully obvious. The editorial board went on to say,
“The most glaring ideological diversity deficit among undergraduates is the relatively small number of students who identify as conservative. In the election survey, fewer than 13 percent of respondents described themselves as ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ conservative, compared to over 70 percent describing themselves as ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ liberal.”
It turns out that in the pre-election survey, only 6% of the Harvard undergraduate population indicated they were likely to vote for Donald Trump. That’s 6%. Now just place that over the fact that Donald Trump won a convincing victory in the Electoral College. In a statement of radical hope over against all expectation, the editors wrote,
“Administrators and faculty should take active steps to ensure that students of all political stripes feel comfortable voicing their ideas, especially in the classroom. Concretely, this effort will likely involve actively encouraging the airing of different views, and curtailing unnecessary or inappropriate expressions of political favor by professors. Guaranteeing that more conservative professors teach in subject areas that clearly lean liberal, like the humanities, is also crucial.”
As I said, that is a statement of radical hope over against any practical expectation, because the faculty has not been drifting left for merely the last several years, but for almost the entirety of the 20th century. And furthermore, the faculty in these elite institutions is entirely self-policing and self-reproducing. But this is at the very least an acknowledgment of the great worldview chasm that increasingly divides Americans, and divides Americans predictably now along social class and even geographic location as much as anything else.
The Battle of Ideas: "Elections determine who takes power, not who offers the truth."
Meanwhile, to take just one day’s editorial selection from the New York Times. This was Friday, November 11, the opposing views were offered by David Brooks, often cited as a conservative, and Paul Krugman, openly acknowledged as a liberal. David Brooks began his article by writing,
“If your social circles are like mine, you spent Tuesday night swapping miserable texts. Not all, but many of my friends and family members were outraged, stunned, disgusted and devastated.”
Remember, that’s coming from the more conservative columnist for The New York Times. That tells you something of what counts as a conservative at the leading and most influential newspaper in the United States. But it’s Paul Krugman, the Nobel prize-winning economist and predictably liberal commentator who wrote what I think is the most interesting column. It was entitled,
“Thoughts for the Horrified.”
In one of the most important arguments that he made in his column written for other members of the left is this:
“First of all, remember that elections determine who gets the power, not who offers the truth.”
Now that’s actually an extremely accurate statement. Elections are about electing a candidate, they’re not about determining truth. But they are about determining one truth, and that is how the electorate will vote. That’s an interesting statement and it has the benefit of actually being very true. Elections do indeed decide questions of power, not questions of truth. But we also need to recognize that in determining the questions of power, there are certain truths that are affirmed. And here’s one: the American people voted to elect Donald Trump and not Hillary Clinton as the next President of the United States. Paul Krugman is basically saying in this article, writing to his fellow liberals, “Don’t worry, we might have lost the election, but we will win in the battle for ideas.” And that’s where conservatives had better understand that there is a very real challenge that is being offered here. It is simply a fact of American political life that as soon as an election is over, the political apparatus gets ready for the next one. And the next election, just like every election, will be quite predictably, indeed, inevitably a battle of ideas. And as Christians must understand, the battle of ideas includes elections, but the real battle is far larger than anything that can be measured on a ballot.