Sorry, Donald Trump — "elite" is not a four-letter word: Ivy Leaguers Trump and Steve Bannon have peddled a brand of anti-elitism that's anti-American

Trump and his inner circle do want to remove the global elite from power . . . so they can take their place

By Carrie Sheffield
Published November 8, 2016 7:30PM (EST)
Steve Bannon; Donald Trump   (AP/Danny Moloshok/Richard Shiro/Photo montage by Salon)
Steve Bannon; Donald Trump (AP/Danny Moloshok/Richard Shiro/Photo montage by Salon)

The Republican nominee and his acolytes are throwing words “elite” like a slander and a slur — and that should give conservatives and all Americans reason for pause. First, because Donald Trump et al are attempting to dismantle bedrock principles of economic and conservatism and second, because behind their “anti-elitist” rhetoric lies a brutal, unbridled ambition to become the unchecked, new ruling elite.

First, to the attempted betrayal of Adam Smith and Edmund Burke. As Fay Vincent Jr. argued in an excellent Wall Street Journal op-ed: 

Many Americans now view "power, talent and wealth" as accretions of systems that confer status in unfair ways. To them, an elite person achieves his status by birth at the expense of others.

Sadly, this misinterpretation perpetuated by Trump and his campaign degrades and perverts the American Dream. It’s no wonder that much of Trump’s populist demagoguery channels that of Sen. Bernie Sanders, not to mention socialist and oligarchic strongmen leaders in Latin American and the Middle East: Tar and feather the rich! Demean excellence and accomplishment! Enflame the passions of identity politics! It is the rhetoric typically embraced by the left.

Rather than seeking to "Make America Great Again," Trump would destroy what made us great in the first place. Free enterprise and capitalism are the most staggeringly effective means of alleviating poverty and advancing human achievement in the world.

As Americans, we have always stood at the forefront of that advancement — the dividends resulting from our commitment to personal freedom and enlightenment include the most astonishing discoveries in history. These simple, stark truths are often obscured today, as shame and anger directed at our forefathers and today’s “global elite,” who were and are fallible guides leading us along the path of innovation. Though imperfect, they play a vital role in ensuring that, as Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently put it, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

The American forefathers laid out the blueprint for us to seek happiness — a revolutionary concept, something not readily accessible to the common man or woman elsewhere amid the world’s oligarchies and dictatorships. And while our history is besotted with sins and error, we are a society that has constantly marched toward an undeniable exceptionalism.

We are a nation that is wealthier, more generous, productive and creative than any in the world. We are a nation that preserves global stability through a robust military presence that does not seek conquest but rather cooperation. We are a nation that empowers women, people of color, those with disabilities and the vulnerable in society, allowing them to make achievements unlike anywhere else.

Trump’s governing philosophy would undermine free enterprise by imposing tariffs and launching trade wars that harm America’s middle class. His diatribes against a supposedly corrupt and broken system denies the bedrock conservative belief in American exceptionalism. Trump’s obsession with manufacturing jobs is backward looking and smacks of leftist revanchism.

It has traditionally been liberals who stood in the way of the competition and fair exchange that drive innovation and discovery. Trumpians argue that American trade deals have given away manufacturing jobs while ignoring the massive consumer surpluses and increase in the average American’s quality of life wrought by global economic exchange.

If the trade deals were as horrible for Americans as he claims, then why would these American firms remain in business? Companies cater to consumers, who benefit from the exchange. If there wasn’t some accretive effect, then the firm would shutter. That is the lifeblood of democratic capitalism that Trump fails to understand.

In addition to rejecting core economic and philosophical principles, Trump is attempting to beguile voters into thinking that he would not play the same game as the current “global elite.” The only real question here is which "elites" Americans want running the show.

Both Trump and his campaign manager Steve Bannon went to Ivy League schools and have floated among the circles of power for decades. Bannon graduated from Harvard Business School — a bastion of global elites. Trump and Bannon hide their status as "global elites” under a cloak of populist demagoguery. By dehumanizing and “othering” successful leaders, they echo fascists of the past.  

Trump surrogate Laura Ingraham wrote in her closing argument for Trump, America must decide between failed policies or fresh perspective, a corrupt system or an outsider.” Yet Trump offers none of the remedies that Ingraham described. He brings a rancid and twisted perspective, one that teeters on insanity and depravity. He is a man who dismisses bragging about sexual assault as mere “locker-room talk” even as he also jokes of objectifying his own daughter. That’s incest talk. America cannot be the city on a hill if it is run by a man who openly degrades women through his words of incest and rape.

That we are even discussing such issues among the “family values” party is a clear indication of the moral bankruptcy of such a party. It is also behavior so common to “elites” who believe they are above the law, above common sense and common decency. Trump simply desires that we turn a blind eye to his exploitation of the common man through Trump University, his vulgar bullying and reckless bankruptcies enabling his tax avoidance. This is the embodiment of corruption, not the antidote.

Carrie Sheffield

Carrie Sheffield is a Salon Talks host, founder of Bold and adviser to Lincoln Network. She previously wrote editorials for The Washington Times, covered politics for POLITICO and The Hill and analyzed municipal credit for Goldman Sachs and Moody's Investors Service.

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Donald Trump Elections 2016 Elite Global Elites Steve Bannon The Ivy League