Two weeks of testimony this month in the U.S. House, seeking clarity on whether to remove Donald Trump from the presidency, has given us proof positive.
Not just that Trump is suffering from uncontrolled chaotic thinking, but of something much worse: that the American people are in decline due to systemic elite failure.
We are not alone. The same plague has overtaken the English. Just consider Brexit.
In 2016, the morning after citizens of the U.K. voted 52% to 48% to leave the European Union, I called my friend Lord Daniel Brennan, the former chair of our Caux Round Table, and asked: “Dan, what happened?”
Without hesitation he said: “Elite failure.”
I replied: “The same thing is happening in my country.” And in due course Trump was elected president.
The elite that has failed and continues to fail is the managerial class raised up by industrialized society. It is most easily defined by its system of recruitment (higher education); by its social function (providing regulatory technical expertise); and by its culture and mind-set of privilege and entitlement.
Such an elite reigns in all modern societies — communist, national socialist and capitalist.
The first social theorist I am aware of who exposed the inherent danger of this elite was Julien Benda in his 1927 book in French, “La Trahison des Clercs” — “Treason of the Scribes.” For Benda, the “scribes” were the intellectuals who produced both communism (Lenin and his party cadres) and fascism (Mussolini and his party cadres) and similar avant-garde activists in democratic societies.
Their “treason” involved turning against truth to champion nihilism, which made them loyal to emotional parochialisms. They were, Benda alleged, replacing civilization with the law of the jungle, which could only lead to war and oppression of the weak by the strong.
Benda’s critique has been dismissed by successive generations of clercs who have finally risen to fully control our educational institutions, many of our churches, our high-tech corporations, our media and our government.
When reflecting on our impeachment struggle, it is essential to note that both Adam Schiff and Donald Trump belong to the ruling class of those criticized by Benda for their disregard of truth — Schiff from the left and Trump from the right.
Let’s now ask: Who are the anti-elitists in today’s America? Who stands against the clercs who dictate our cultural norms, run our politics, and benefit most from our economy?
First there are the working-class “deplorables” who support Donald Trump and Tulsi Gabbard.
Second there are the Bernie Sanders die-hards who won’t support Harvard Law School Prof. Elizabeth Warren though she agrees with Bernie on almost everything.
Third, all the everyday Americans who just spent $300 million to watch the movie “Joker.”
Taking them all together we most likely have a majority of Americans who are not at all happy with where the clercs are taking us.
We can predict with near certainty that these anti-elitist Americans have no empathy with the Democratic Party’s desperate insistence on impeaching Trump. The anti-elitists were no doubt among the many millions of Americans who did not watch any of the impeachment hearings and don’t give a damn about anything to which Schiff’s carefully chosen witnesses testified.
And why should they? The witnesses brought before the public were, each and every one, highly educated professionals. Each was a clerc, one of those who lead the daily prayers in our modern Cathedral of Enlightened Thinking.
Listening to George Kent, William Taylor, “Andy” Vindman, David Holmes, Fiona Hill and especially Adam Schiff was to hear the secular clergy for our modern elite excommunicate Trump from their fold for his presumption, his vulgarity, his childish prejudices and, most of all, for his refusal to listen to them — his intellectual betters.
Of course the testimony also confirmed the shallowness of Trump, his acting wittingly on stupid prejudices about people who live in or come from “s---hole countries” like Ukraine, Somalia, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, and about the worth of nihilistic ubermenschen like Kim Jong Un, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Boris Johnson, “Bibi” Netanyahu, Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman, and, maybe, Navy SEALs who like to pose with dead bodies.
These leaders, and others like Nicolás Maduro and Narendra Modi, seem to fit well within Benda’s typology of clercs in that they rule their countries based not on truth but through intellectualized emotional parochialisms, in most cases a rule propped up mostly by state police powers.
Among our Democratic Party leadership, the Trahison des Clercs has produced the Trump Derangement Syndrome, a willing suspension of fair procedures and the rule of law, in order to lash out in fury and rebellion against a coldhearted world order that rejects rule from the top by those who consider themselves entitled to power.
Having given up the search for truth and having no humility, the clercs who seek to run our culture, society and government have only their own personal truths, their own narratives, their own prejudices with which to govern all of us. They can easily become deranged when they don’t get their way.
Derangement is a descent into interpersonal hell; no good can come of it. Any form of derangement is not a good frame of mind. If the powerful become deranged, all is lost.
Again, ancient Greeks saw this coming. One said, “Whirl is King, having driven out Zeus.” Another wisely observed that “those whom the Gods would destroy, they first ruin their minds.”
Several years ago, in Singapore, Lim Siong Guan, then chairman of the government’s investment fund, told me that history holds few examples of a people becoming great and remaining so for more than 250 years.
America was founded 243 years ago.
Stephen B. Young, of St. Paul, is global executive director of the Caux Round Table, an organization dedicated to promoting ethical capitalism.