Saturday, January 6

That Meritocracy thing again…

Although the film (I, Tonya) sympathises with the ice-skater Tonya Harding at times, she is not portrayed as a heroine. What her story provides, though, is an insight into some of the issues at the heart of America’s cultural divide. These days, it is common to explain Trump’s rise to power as a result of anger about economic inequality, joblessness and the decline of the middle class. In part, that is true. But my own travels around the US last year have left me convinced that what is really going on today is not just an economic saga but a culture war. Over recent decades, a deep resentment has built up among white working-class voters about the way that the elite has used a myriad of subtle cultural symbols to patronise, scorn or ignore them. What happened to Harding in the ice-skating world is just one example of that clash but you can see many others during the rise of Trump … If you do not have the education in America to be articulate, you feel a sense of almost daily humiliation. To put it another way, the clash in modern politics is not just about the “haves” and “have nots” in an economic sense but between those who have control over the culture. Being “educated” creates snobbery, which is deemed acceptable among the elite, partly because it is presented in the language of meritocracy. Trump’s genius has been to tap into this resentment that so many felt – and feel. 

This was Gillian Tett in today’s FT. It’s a yawn in that it must be the zillionth article I’ve read telling the same story. I believe most everyone now accepts the rationale behind the Trump (and Brexit) phenomenon, the rise of populism throughout Europe. What I haven’t read much about, given both sides are digging in, is where we go from here. I can’t recall a time when so much was up for grabs and there were so many ways for the cards to fall.

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