Much as I felt I would prefer Trump to Clinton, I also called him a boor, a cheat, a liar, an overgrown teenager and a man whose principles were as deeply rooted as tumbleweed, so I am not a cheerful man this morning. But while a Clinton victory would have encouraged our elites to ignore all the signs of America hurtling towards demographic chaos, Trump’s victory might shock them into sobriety.
There are important lessons to be learned from this election, even for people who are not emotionally conservative:
- Tens of millions of poor and middle class white people feel as marginalised as any minority.
- Economic indicators cannot by themselves define standards of living, and one must also consider status.
- Social trust is more important than diversity and in some forms the two appear to be incompatible.
- Centralisation can obscure the different needs and norms of different regions and their different communities.
- Needs traditionally met by the family and civic organisations cannot be fulfilled by government.
- Tribalism is a universal phenomenon (and everyone can play identity politics).
- Political and cultural elites have indeed “come apart” from the majority of Americans and must reconnect with them to avoid conflict.
- The arc of history does not bend towards progress (whatever one considers “progress” to be) and today’s norms can be tomorrow’s eccentricities.
- Pattern recognition systems in the social sciences need dramatic alternations.
- Mocking something does not always make it go away.
I say these things because I am no diehard populist. Talent is unequally distributed, so there must be elites. Societies need bureaucratic structures to function effectively. Popular grievances can become pathological. There are all sorts of dangers in a Trump presidency, from ignoring complex problems to creating disasters. Yet our elites have achieved both, and in the aftermath of the electoral triumph of a man who has been a progressive punchline for three decades they can no longer deny this. We are in dark times, the darkness of which can be enjoyed only because of the farcical yelps and curses in its depths. To brighten them we must first accept our predicament – and avoid setting everything on fire.