This is the question posed in a recent David Brooks column in the New York Times.
He starts out with the admission (or confession) that he is an anti-Trumper who believes that members of this group are “the good guys, the forces of progress and enlightenment” while the “Trumpers are reactionary bigots and authoritarians” who see Trump as “the embodiment of their resentments.”
At least for purposes of argument, however, Brooks considers whether the anti-Trumpers are the bad guys by creating the “modern meritocracy” system.
Such a system started in the 1960s “when high school grads had to go off to fight in Vietnam but the children of the educated class got college deferments. It continues in the 1970s, when the authorities imposed busing on working-class areas in Boston but not on the upscale communities like Wellesley where . . . [the educated class] lived.”
The latter is “the modern meritocracy. We built an entire social order that sorts and excludes people on the basis of the quality that we possess most: academic achievement. Highly educated parents go to elite schools, marry each other, work at high-paying jobs and pour enormous resources into our children, who get into the same elite schools, marry each other and pass their exclusive class privileges down from generation to generation.”
“Everybody else is forced into a world down there. . . . Today middle-class children lose out to the rich children at school, and middle-class adults lose out to elite graduates at work. Meritocracy blocks the middle class from opportunity. Then . . . [the modern aristocracy] blames those who lose a competition for income and status that even when everyone plays by the rules, only the rich can win.”
“Armed with all kinds of economic, cultural and political power, we [members of the modern aristocracy] support policies that help ourselves. Free trade makes the products we buy cheaper, and our jobs are unlikely to be moved to China. Open immigration makes our service staff cheaper, but new, less-educated immigrants aren’t likely to put downward pressure on our wages.”
“We [the members of the modern aristocracy] also change the moral norms in ways that suit ourselves, never mind the cost to others. For example, there used to be a norm that discouraged people from having children outside marriage, but that got washed away during our period of cultural dominance, as we eroded norms that seemed judgmental or that might inhibit individual freedom.”
“After this social norm was eroded, . . . [m]embers of our class still overwhelmingly married and had children within wedlock. People without our resources, unsupported by social norms, were less able to do that.”
As Adrian Wooldridge points out in his magisterial 2021 book, “The Aristocracy of Talent, ‘Sixty percent of births to women with only a high school certificate occur out of wedlock, compared with only 10 percent to women with a university degree.” That matters, he continues, because ‘the rate of single parenting is the most significant predictor of social immobility in the country.’”
Brooks believes that most of our class [the modern aristocracy] are “earnest, kind and public-spirited. But we take for granted and benefit from systems that have become oppressive. Elite institutions have become so politically progressive in part because the people in them want to feel good about themselves as they take part in systems that exclude and reject [others].”
“It’s easy to understand why people in less-educated classes would conclude that they are under economic, political, cultural and moral assault — and why they’ve rallied around Trump as their best warrior against the educated class. Brooks understands that it’s not the entrepreneurs who seem most threatening to workers; it’s the professional class. Trump understood that there was great demand for a leader who would stick his thumb in our eyes on a daily basis and reject the whole epistemic regime that we rode in on.”
“If distrustful populism is your basic worldview, the Trump indictments seem like just another skirmish in the class war between the professionals and the workers, another assault by a bunch of coastal lawyers who want to take down the man who most aggressively stands up to them. Of course, the indictments don’t cause Trump supporters to abandon him. They cause them to become more fiercely loyal. That’s the polling story of the last six months.”
“Are Trump supporters right that the indictments are just a political witch hunt? Of course not. As a card-carrying member of my class, Brooks says, I still basically trust the legal system and the neutral arbiters of justice. Trump is a monster in the way we’ve all been saying for years and deserves to go to prison.”
Therefore, for sociologist Digby Baltzell and David Brooks, “the real question is: When will we stop behaving in ways that make Trumpism inevitable?”
In this column, Brooks does not provide an answer to his “real question.” Maybe there will be a future column in which he does so.
This blogger, however, believes at least part of the “real answer” for the State of Minnesota and many other states lies in the declining and aging population of rural parts of the State and the resulting negative impacts on their economies and visions of the future. This problem suggests the need for more immigration to help solve the need for more labor with immigrant visas requiring the recipients to live and work in the areas with declining population.
Another part of the answer for this State and others, therefore, this blogger believes, is developing a system to promote and maintain intimate social contacts between people in the two parts of the states and thereby developing better understanding of the two sectors and programs for addressing the needs of the people in the rural parts of the states. Such a system requires everyone to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other and to recognize our failings (sins) and request forgiveness from God and those whom we have wronged.
Readers are invited to provide comments to this post with other ideas for answering the “real question” posed by Brooks.
 See, e.g., these posts in dwkcommentaries.com: Another Defining Challenge of the 21st Century (Jan. 28, 2023);Skepticism About Douthat’s Defining Challenge of the 21st Century (Jan. 30, 2023); COMMENT: Developments in Africa and Italy Accentuate Douthat’s Concerns (Jan. 31, 2023); Iowa State Government Encouraging Refugee and Migrant Resettlement Feb. 1, 2023); COMMENT: National Worker Shortages in U.S. (Feb. 3, 2023); Migrant Workers Being Paid Premium Wages in U.S. Tight Labor Market (Feb. 8, 2023); More Details on U.S. and Other Countries’ Worker Shortages (Feb. 9, 2023);Your Longevity Is Important for Many Reasons (Feb. 12, 2023); Other States Join Iowa in Encouraging Immigration To Combat Aging, Declining Populations (Feb. 22, 2023); COMMENT: More Support for Immigrants’ Importance for U.S. Economy (Feb. 23, 2023); U.S. High-Tech Layoffs Threaten Immigrants with Temporary Visas (Feb. 25, 2023); U.S. Needs To Ameliorate Brutal Jobs Endangering Immigrant Workers (Feb. 26, 2023); COMMENT: Layoffs in Overall U.S. Economy Are Rare (Feb. 27, 2023); COMMENT: Many Undocumented Immigrants Leaving U.S. (March 1, 2023); Protections for U.S. Child Labor Need Improvement (APRIL 22, 2023; Wall Street Journal Editorial: U.S. Needs More Immigrants (July 25, 2023); COMMENT: Americans in Their Prime Are Flooding Into the Job Market (July 26, 2023:COMMENT: Dire Shortages of Workers in U.S. Public Sector (July 27, 2023).
 E.g., Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church: Presbyterian Principles: It is our duty to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other, dwkcommentaries.com (May 19, 2023).
 E.g., The Prayer Jesus Taught: “And forgive us for our debts as we forgive our debtors,” dwkcommentaaries.com (May 9, 2023).