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On the Elites and Counter-Elites: The Elites and California Disease

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On the Elites and Counter-Elites (full series)
WEIRD | Polling the Elites | What Makes an Elite?
The Elites and California Disease | Whither the Counter-Elite?

The Elites and California Disease

Before addressing what California Disease is and how it afflicts politicos, one must riff from Dickens. California was progressive to begin with. There must be no doubt, whatever, about that. The Republicans were Hiram Johnson, Earl Warren, and Arnold Schwarzenegger; the Democrats were Pat and Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom. The GOP has not held the “trifecta” in the state since the 1960s, and the trifecta, not presidential voting habits, tells best the truth of a state’s politics.

But because of the outsize influence of the Golden State on American culture and the outsize influence of the presidency—especially the presidency of conservative Californian Ronald Reagan—on national politics, many think the Golden State was once conservative in some lost idyll.

And since it is not conservative today, then the idyll was lost and had to have been lost by someone’s actions. Both liberals and conservatives have a common answer: They claim the state was Ground Zero for The Emerging Democratic Majority, on steroids. The Demographics (capital-D) lost (for liberals, defeated) the Reagan idyll (for liberals, nightmare). What the Demographics did to (for liberals, for) the Golden State, they can do to (for liberals, for) the nation.

For elites of both factions, this assumption yields a deranging condition one might call “California Disease.” The left-wing variant of California Disease is, loosely, “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” (implications of the Cabaret number by that title left to the reader). All that it takes to secure Everything Leftism is to turn the demographic dials far enough. One-party national rule is inevitable, just like one-party rule in once-red, now midnight-blue California. Furthermore, there is no risk of “going too far” in pursuit of Everything Leftism because the Demographics only move, and vote, in one direction. This is The Emerging Democratic Majority interpreted as teleology, the extreme applications of which drove one of the book’s authors, Ruy Teixeira, out of institutional liberalism at the Center for American Progress and into the arms of the heterodox center-right at the American Enterprise Institute.

The conservative California Disease is the reverse: a paralyzing, all-conquering fear of the Demographics and their manipulation by the California Diseased progressives. Like its left-wing counterpart, right-wing California Disease takes the Emerging Democratic Majority as teleology, holding that changing Demographics are an existential threat to conservative politics and power. Applied to politics and policy, right-wing California Disease subjugates all political priorities to extreme immigration restriction, anti-mainstream-female sentiment, and (in extremis) explicit white-identity politics. Where left-wing California Disease afflicts its sufferers with hubris, right-wing California Disease afflicts its sufferers with desperation—the need for “one weird trick” to rescue America from the Californian future the Demographics are supposed to bring about.

Counter-elites formed by right-wing institutions are at severe risk from California Disease, in part because right-wing counter-institutions tend to locate in blue states, often the bluest regions that qualify for the Scott Rasmussen/Committee to Unleash Prosperity classification of elite locales. The “New Right” flagship think tank, the Claremont Institute, is headquartered in Upland, California, a suburb of Los Angeles with about half the density required to qualify as “elite.” Other think tanks like the Heritage Foundation (and the Capital Research Center) are headquartered in Washington, DC, which meets the CtUP “elite” density qualification and is monolithically Democratic in its local government. Prominent media outlets (like Fox News) and prestige magazines (like National Review) are based in and around New York City, another overwhelmingly liberal “elite” city.

Historically, conservative institutional proximity to leftists led to a conservative-Republican elite class that was more explicitly moderate, in the mold of longtime New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller or House Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-IL), than was the conservative electorate. But today, thanks to ideological sorting, it means that intellectual conservative elites have likely risen through educational systems either institutionally hostile to conservatism or institutionally dedicated to conservatism (like Hillsdale College) and who live in regions institutionally hostile to conservatism.

Combined with exposure to internet commentary, this upbringing can create a hard-edged, almost anti-social tendency among conservative operatives and institutions. California Disease, the view that “the Demographics are coming for us,” is a common affliction, leading to ideologically extreme and politically harmful policy proposals both serious and tongue-in-cheek ranging from “Repeal the 19th [Amendment]” to throwing out the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In the next installment, the lesson of the “Trump era” is not that “tomorrow belongs to us,” but that nothing is determined, and everything is up for grabs.


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