Clown Town

What’s an “Elite”? or, Don’t Tell Me You’ve Never Heard This Song Before

Watch this until the end, if you haven’t already:

Now imagine, if you can, that you have never heard this song before.

Don’t say that you have heard it. Don’t say, “Oh man, that’s the song from Shrek.” Don’t tell me it’s been done to death. I know: It has been done to death. For you.

Just try hearing it like you haven’t heard it before. Here we are, days after the election. Saturday Night Live cold opens with this weird tear-jerker of a song. It’s about King David, and adultery, and castration. It must have been written for the occasion, you figure. But that’s preposterous. And it’s being sung by Hillary Lesbian Clinton. Of course.

Can you understand how completely insane that must have sounded? Anecdotally I can tell you: That’s exactly how it sounded to a lot of people.

There’s been a lot of discussion of how Trump’s win was a rebuke to the “elites” of the country, but as my colleague Julian Sanchez pointed out, the word has been strangely under-defined. What exactly is an elite? Socioeconomic, racial, educational, and other metrics don’t seem to fit the term as it has been used just lately.

I would suggest that the elites being rebuked here are professional media consumers.

I’m one of them. It’s literally my job to spend hours and hours online looking for interesting arguments, curating them, discussing with their authors, and producing additional arguments. That’s what I get paid for.

In a relevant sense, this is also Kate McKinnon’s job. She must know, as I do, that Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” has been done to death. Hell, the very assertion that Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” has been done to death itself has been done to death. We find it in the New York Times, and the Atlantic, and Slate and Pitchfork, and an entire book. I’m sure that this informed her choice of why to play it. Properly understood, it was hilarious. And also sad.

Not everyone, though, is a professional media consumer who lives on the Internet and only interacts with other PMCs for most of their professional lives. And so I do think that the nods and winks that McKinnon brilliantly added to her performance — gestures aimed at PMCs like me — fell flat to a lot of people. This is much like all of our earlier signals of concern about the Trump candidacy, which were based on specialized knowledges that we have been terrible at communicating.

We elites, understood as PMCs, were also pushed away. Hard. Anyone who writes about public policy full-time could see that Trump was grossly uninformed and unprepared. That’s why his newspaper endorsements were so few. Journalists saw right through him, regardless of their ideology, because they cover policy every day. They’re policy PMCs, and therefore know policy details, which Trump has never even slightly demonstrated.

It’s not just that people outside the political class were drawn to his rhetoric, though clearly they were. PMCs could tell that he wasn’t one of us, and in ways that were not at all analogous to using the wrong fork for salad. These matters will have consequences, though we don’t know just what they will be yet: Offhand, Trump would suggest defaulting on U.S. debt obligations, or letting Japan get the bomb, or imposing a religious test for entering the country… without showing any awareness that these were indeed radical departures, and that they would raise enormous legal and/or implementation problems.

Policy-based PMCs flipped out: Those problems would be happening exactly where a lot of us live, regardless of political party. We don’t know how to do what he’s asking, and he would know that, if he had spent any time at all with us.

Division of labor has created some interesting things in its history, but the gap between PMCs and non-PMCs is one of the more troubling ones I can think of, and I say that as a PMC.