A little more than a week ago we saw British citizens vote to leave the European Union, citing distrust of ruling elites in Brussels and a desire to retake lost national power.
The E.U. leadership’s vision of a united and peaceful Europe is now in disrepute. Their failed financial decisions have divided the Union and pitted the poorer southern part of the continent against the richer northern region. Europe is re-fragmenting.
A few weeks ago, we saw Donald Trump win enough primary votes to become the U.S. Republican presidential nominee, riding on the wave of isolationism, nationalism, xenophobia and the rejection of the ruling Republican elites who have ignored their base for too long.
Ironically, Trump is one of the privileged billionaires who got his fortune not by the sweat of his brow, but from a rich daddy who gave him and his siblings between $100 million and $300 million as his last bequest. Trump represents all that people despise in the arrogant rich, yet millions follow him, admiring his apparent “tell-it-like it-is” authenticity, self-confidence and decisiveness.
Trump’s popularity has created a disconnect between his statements and his persona that both attracts and repels.
Hillary Clinton, although winning enough votes to become the Democratic nominee, is very unpopular among many for being the penultimate insider. She is viewed as part of the top 1 percent who have been tainted by her amoral actions and by her closeness to wealthy Wall Street financiers. Fellow Democrats have voted by the millions for democratic socialist Bernie Sanders because of his stands for the poor and middle classes over the upper class.
Even in small-town Enumclaw, we are seeing a continuing debate in city hall between those who favor gated communities and those who think such a plan will create artificial barriers between the classes, both geographically and philosophically.
Business leaders cite the argument that encouraging the wealthy elite to live and build in Enumclaw will raise revenue for the city, paying the bills for city maintenance for the rest of us. The argument against this approach is that, along with those gated refuges for the rich, will come a sense of superiority and arrogance.
Judging by the make-up of the current council, it is my guess that the conservative business types will prevail and we will see the rise of gated communities in Enumclaw.
This clash of social classes is part of American DNA. Think about our freeways. In our big cities, we saw the rise of HOV lanes based upon the goal of getting people out of their cars and into ride sharing. But, if you have travelled through Bellevue recently, you will see “Good to Go” HOV lanes into and out of Seattle. In that area at least, the goal of additional lanes is not based upon getting people out of their cars to avoid traffic jams and pollution. The emphasis is now based upon gaining income for the state. Those who can afford it, pay to use the HOV, while the poorer masses wait in clogged lanes, bumper to bumper.
As a further example, think about the last time you flew. The rich sit in luxury in first class, getting preferential treatment, sipping wine and being served meals, while the rest of the passengers are crammed into coach, bringing their own meals in brown paper bags, or going hungry.
Which is the better approach, to cater to the rich so they can enjoy the benefits and privileges of their material abundance, which would theoretically trickle down to the masses, or to level the playing field by taxing the rich at high rates and distributing that extra money for the good of all society?
With wealth comes power. With power comes the potential to tinker with and manipulate the gears of government. The ability to affect legislation brings laws that allow those who are so blessed to garner an ever-greater portion of the nation’s wealth.
If there is a common thread among all these events it is that there is a mass uprising against privilege and power at the expense of the many. The thread that binds all these examples together is that the masses no longer trust their ruling elite. They feel a deep sense of betrayal.
Only time will determine how far that rebellion will spread and whether the elites will continue to hold their power, or whether a new elite will rise. As with all human endeavors, the quest for power, status and meaning will cause a clash between those who have it and those who want it.