And They Wonder Why We're Angry
America is experiencing a major culture war between its interpreters and the people. It is less a war of political parties: Democrat versus Republican. It is less a war of ideologies: conservative versus liberal. The rapidly escalating censorship of the internet giants against Dennis Prager and an array of conventionally American advocates is a symptom of an interpretive class gone mad with their own power. In many respects, it pits the secular against the religious and the higher economic class against the lower class.
It is girded by a unified political party. Republicans and Democrats are significantly unified against a president they view as vulgar and offensive. There is nothing liberal about the escalating intolerance of groups like Antifa and even the radical Islamic supremacist camp recently discovered in New Mexico. There is a growing cultural reckoning between notions of America as a constitutional republic or America as a democratic socialist utopia. The polarity is profound, and the interpreters believe they hold the upper hand with regard to education, the media, the government, the church, and the press. These epistemological agents control the story dispensed to the people, and though they failed miserably in 2016, they believe they will in 2018 rise again to dictate outcomes for the people.
The interpreters decide what things mean. Is something offensive? Is something racist? Is something sexist? Is something homophobic or transphobic? These decisions destroy the people's access to the public sphere and public legitimacy.
The interpretive classes remain largely confused about why "flyover country," "Jesusland," rural America, the "mouth-breathers" are so angry. Here are some items for the interpreters to consider as a rational basis for anger:
Housing. When the interpreters regained control of the House in 2006 – much as they seek it now – they immediately deregulated the GSEs, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, under the guidance of House leader Barney Frank. The lack of oversight over these massive federal government loan operators caused the massive economic collapse robbing the people of more than six trillion dollars in home values. Home values in Washington, D.C. and surrounding areas did not drop. To this day, the suburbs of D.C. remain among the ten wealthiest counties in America. There was no great recession in Washington, D.C. The housing crisis and recession were strapped by the interpreters to the political corpse of President Bush, and the super-populist interpreter President Barack Obama was ushered into power. Attempts to criticize or limit his political actions were regularly interpreted as racist.
Health care. President Obama substantially changed the American health care system against the wishes of the American people. After an initial straight-line partisan vote, the Affordable Care Act was adopted as legislation. After sufficient interpretation, the legislation was affirmed as constitutional by the Roberts Court, and even Senator McCain came to see the legislation as vital. Every American was now required to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty.
Once the legislation came into full effect by 2013, something remarkable happened: American life expectancy began to decline dramatically. For 2015 and 2016, American life expectancy declined for two years in a row – the first such occasion of decline in more than 50 years.
Chief interpreter for the ACA Jonathan Gruber said lying to the public was necessary and justifiable to get the massive overhaul to health care passed. The law consolidated health care from rural areas into urban areas. First, the people had their homes taken from them, and now they had their access to health care taken. An Ohio auditor report found that Medicaid recipients were three times as likely to fall victim to opioid abuse as privately insured individuals. This means that the states that passed Medicaid expansions like Ohio have received the brunt disproportionately from the catastrophic opioid crisis, killing more than 60,000 Americans a year.
The Free Press. Interpreters among our journalist class bemoan President Trump's attacks on them. Journalistic coverage of President Trump is more than 90 percent negative. When a gunman attacked a newspaper in Maryland, one journalist was willing to immediately falsely report that the shooter was wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat. Journalistic reports on the "killing" of the president or "impeachment" of the president were exponentially higher for President Trump than Presidents Bush and Obama in their first six months of their first terms. Artists and comedians uphold the interpretive concept of beheading the president. All of this factors into hundreds of violent attacks on Trump-supporters who are falsely and uniformly represented as neo-Nazis, KKK members, and "Alt-Right" fanatics.
A Harvard study on media coverage of election 2016 revealed something rather interesting. The journalistic coverage actually favored candidate Trump in the Republican primary process but turned sharply against him once he secured the nomination. Why? The media's cynical behavior lies at the heart of the public's anger at them. The media believed that Donald Trump was a clown and saddling the Republicans with him as the nominee would set up an easy soft ball for the other interpretively selected nominee to knock out of the park. The public rejected this cynical political move by the interpreters and put Trump in the White House as a powerful statement against the press.
Immigration remains one of the most dominant flash points of this war. The interpreters say limits on immigration are un-American and discriminatory. Here the partisan and ideological lenses fail most profoundly to interpret this conflict. Almost every business school on any college campus – a relatively conservative oasis on most campuses – will host public symposia on the economic benefits of immigration, taking an interpretive jab at the president and the perceived ignorant public.
What many parents fail to realize when they send their young people to expensive collegiate educations this week is that the business degree will not be an automatic option. Business schools consistently maintain the most strict entry standards for admission to their major on college campuses. Not just anyone can get a business degree. The business school has standards, and this allows it to keep classes sizes small and the desired social environment positive. This hypocrisy is but one of thousands that extend from the interpretive class into the suffering public. Why not let all immigrants from anywhere have immediate free access to a business degree from any of our nation's top universities? How can there be any downside to such a venture?
Justice. Peter Strzok exudes the temperament of the interpretive classes. He can "smell Trump supporters at Walmart." The public is generally intrigued and surprised that someone like Strzok might go to a Walmart. Strzok's leadership of the Hillary Clinton server investigation and more recently the Russian collusion case causes the public to believe that justice is a rigged game in Washington. Local police officers here in Dallas wonder why the FBI colluded with the terrorists who attacked the Garland school auditorium in 2015 and cannot be bothered to preventatively detain an impending school shooter in Florida.
All of these items and so many more point to the legitimacy of an enraged public. The stubborn refusal to accept the results of the 2016 presidential election signals an interpretive class on the war path. Studies show that those angered by the failed election of Hillary Clinton view it as comparable to losing a limb. They have their interpretive sledgehammers in hand, and they will smash the presidential star until the public accedes to their demands. Facebook, the SPLC, Twitter, too many professors, too many journalists, and too many Hollywood stars are joining in this war against the public.
The interpretive class would do well to stop and listen to the public instead of pretending to be unaware of the basis of the public's outrage. Had the wishes of the interpretive class been followed in 2016, Harvey Weinstein would be screening starlets in the West Wing with President Bill Clinton looking on with a smile.
The public does have a clue. It is not ignorant. It has not sold its soul to the KKK, the neo-Nazis, or Vladimir Putin. The engines of credible public debate must be reignited, and the temptations toward propaganda through these various interpretive outlets must be rejected.
Dr. Ben Voth is an associate professor of corporate communication and public affairs and director of debate at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. He has published three academic books aimed at encouraging the re-emergence of a free society: The Rhetoric of Genocide, Social Fragmentation and the Decline of American Democracy, and James Farmer Jr.: The Great Debater. He is the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation debate fellow and has worked for the Bush Institute.