“Real America” is back. And it’s more disingenuous than ever.
The Tea Party movement, we are told by followers and academics studying the phenomenon, is a backlash against the so-called “New Elite,” those who went to prestigious schools, married others who (surprise!) went to prestigious schools, eschew NASCAR for yoga, and live in allegedly “elite” communities in and around New York, Los Angeles, Boston, and San Francisco. Tea Party denizens shout that they want their country back. But the country and communities the Tea Party activists have romanticized don’t exist anymore--or at least, they aren’t dominant enough in American demographics to claim the mantle of “real America.”
Charles Murray, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, bemoans the cultural snobbery of the elite, whom he complains are out of touch with the rest of America. Setting aside the backhanded insult to the purportedly disrespected non-elites (who says yoga and hiking are better than NASCAR and RV vacations?), Murray says that the New Elite “may love America, but increasingly, they are not of it.” Most have never been on a factory floor, let alone worked in one, he notes. And “they have never heard of Branson, Mo.”
Yet what has changed is not so much the nature of the New Elite; it’s America itself. Branson has just over 6,000 residents as of the last U.S. Census. More than 94 percent were white; just 4 percent were Hispanic, and less than 1 percent were African-American. This is a perfect Mayberry USA-style setting for a retro TV show, but it’s not real America, where 81 percent of people live in cities and suburbs, nearly 16 percent are Hispanic, and more than 12 percent are African-American.
So the New Elite doesn’t have much experience in a factory? Neither, increasingly, does most of America, where the economy long ago transitioned away from its manufacturing base. Buffalo, New York, once had a thriving local economy rooted in the steel industry and other manufacturing. Those jobs are gone, and the city is struggling to remake itself with 7.5 percent unemployed. Detroit once offered good, secure jobs in the auto industry; those jobs are disappearing as well, leaving the city with 13.9 percent unemployed. Young people who once might have followed their parents into automobile factory jobs won’t have that option anymore. Are they part of the New Elite?
Murray makes a valid point--that people do not tend to intermarry or even socialize with those with vastly different levels of education or income. But that’s an argument against tax policy that results in an increasing concentration of wealth among a smaller percentage of the population.
At Tea Party movement rallies, we hear the chant “we want our country back.” But from whom--the wealthy (mostly white and male) elite who are demanding an extension of their tax cuts at a time when the country faces huge deficits and debt? Or from the people whose pictures and names show up on unflattering signs--the African-American president, the female House speaker, and the gay chairman of the House Financial Services Committee?
Conservatives, whether they are part of the Tea Party movement or not, may legitimately disagree with the policies of Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Barney Frank. But those faces are not a reflection of the New Elite. They are a reflection of the New America.