Undoubtedly, one of the most brilliant tricks plutocrats played on white working and poor people in the United States was persuading them that liberals are elitist. This is part of their dog whistle racist argument that federal programs just take money from them to give it to lazy black people. Nixon pioneered this tactic, and every Republican president who has won since then has relied on some version of it.

Trump’s version of this claim came in his campaign announcement when he attacked Mexicans instead of African Americans, the usual target of Republicans, but it is still the same argument and Republicans will revert to attacking African Americans when opportunity and necessity so direct.

The argument is that “elitist liberals” care more about those lazy blacks than about white working class and poor people. As a matter of simple arithmetic, this is obviously nonsense. African Americans make up only about 13% of the U.S. population. They cannot be the majority of the people who receive federal benefits. White people are the majority in every federal benefit program.

The sickness of the Republican/plutocrat ploy becomes clear when one sees that, even as Republicans repeatedly attack federal benefits and advocate tax cuts as their only solution to every problem, making federal programs look too expensive when the federal government is just under funded, the very people who most likely vote Republican, white people without a college degree, also are most likely to benefit from the very federal programs the Republicans want to cut or eliminate.

By definition, persons who do not have college degrees are not likely to be well versed in political theory, so they are also not likely to know that the bold claim in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these Truths to be Self-Evident, that all Men [and Women] are created equal,” is an axiom of western liberalism as the English philosopher John Locke defined it. Thomas Jefferson borrowed the key concepts in the Declaration directly from Locke, whose work had a huge influence on the English colonies in North America.

In good Republican fashion, U.S. “conservatives” accused their opponents of their own worst failings. By our standards, the good liberals who started and fought the American Revolution were hugely elitist. Many of them owned slaves, the ultimate elitism in the history of the United States, and they paid no attention to the opinions of women. At the ratification of the Constitution, every state had property requirements for voting.

Elitism is the status quo in the United States, as it is in most of the world. It is conservatives, real and faux, U.S. kind, who want to preserve, or conserve, the status quo. Liberals advocate change. Ending slavery was a liberal, even a radical, idea at the time, from the Republicans when they were the liberal Party. “Conservatives” in the United States supported racial segregation to the bitter end. William F. Buckley, the man who defined the “conservative” movement in the United States after World War II, wrote in 1957, as the African American civil rights movement gained momentum, that:

“The central question that emerges-and it is not a parliamentary question or a question that is answered by merely consulting a catalogue of the rights of American citizens, born Equal-is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes -the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race . It is not easy, and it is unpleasant, to adduce statistics evidencing the median cultural superiority of White over Negro : but it is a fact that obtrudes, one that cannot be hidden by ever-so-busy egalitarians and anthropologists.”

This be elitism. It was the liberals in the Democratic Party under the leadership of Lyndon Johnson who led the way in Congress to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, ignoring the fulminations of “conservatives” like Buckley and his ilk.

In the United States, the real elitism is the lingering elitism that is the persistent hangover of racism from our ugly history of slavery and segregation, a history Republicans would rather have us forget and ignore the current effects of.

The greatest irony in all of this is that the poor and working class white people who repeatedly help Republicans win elections would benefit as much as black people from programs that have the purpose of helping all poor people. After the civil rights movement, no federal program may use race as a characteristic in distributing rights, responsibilities, or benefits, so programs to combat poverty help poor white people as much as poor black people. The most important reason why Republicans hate the Affordable Care Act so much is that it benefits everyone, but it benefits African Americans disproportionately because they are more likely to be poor and lack health insurance.

Republicans, caring only about winning elections to hold power and completely indifferent to the well being of most of the population, are only too happy to perpetuate the absurd claim that liberals are elitists, disguising their own elitism in the process.

We can only hope that poor and working class white people finally wake up to the con job the Republicans are playing on them and stop voting against their own interests.

Written by

Uppity gay, Buddhist, author, historian.

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