But the sentiment underlying Trump’s support isn’t just that the elites are distant. It’s that they have failed — publicly, repeatedly, and completely.
The Iraq War, for example, had broad support across the political establishment, including both parties and the mainstream media that covered them. The elites who promoted the war assured everyone that the war was necessary to secure peace and safety, and that it’d be over quickly. Instead, we got a conflict that was abruptly entered, poorly strategized, and haphazardly ended; that cost trillions of dollars and tens of thousands of American deaths; that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and left Iraq and the surrounding regions in a chaos that has yet to be resolved; and that, in the end, left the United States less safe than it was before.
The Great Recession was another stage on which Americans watched elite failure play out. We don’t need to litigate the precise mixture of misguided government policy and Wall Street misbehavior that led to the recession — they were both actions of elites. And while the causes of the recession might be hard to understand, the government’s response was not: The solution, which again had broad consensus, was to put out the fire on Wall Street with taxpayer money.
It was a strategy we can only call successful based upon educated guesses about what might have happened if we hadn’t tried it. And the same people assuring us that this was the right decision are the ones who didn’t warn us of impending crisis in the first place. In fact, some of them assured us that everything was fine right up until the moment it was clear that it wasn’t.
It doesn’t help that the current economic “recovery” isn’t really reflected in the job market. While the unemployment rate is back where it was before the crisis, many workers have been out of work so long that they aren’t even looking for jobs anymore, and thus aren’t even included in the federal unemployment rate. Other measures of the health of the labor market, like the average length of time people are unemployed, still remain stuck near levels that would typically be seen in recessions.
Most Americans are employees who derive almost all of their income from wages, not from business profits, the stock market, or other investments. To them, the labor market is the economy, and the fact that the media and some politicians are declaring that the “economy” has recovered while the circumstances for workers haven’t improved much only serves to emphasize the extent to which elites are out of touch.