This has been the most dispiriting election anyone can remember, but Chris Matthews deserves applause for linking the populist rage against the “ruling class” that has fueled Donald Trump’s rise with foreign policy. Matthews wasn’t celebrating Trump– no, he said he will lose and he’s scurrilous. But he emphasized that Trump’s rise, in spite of his baggage, is a message to “the ruling class” about elite decision-making. On Hardball last night:
I find it important how close this election is drawing…. Enough for the ruling class to pay attention. By that I mean the people who think they have it all together and think the regular people out there should leave them to run the show, letting them to continue alternating Democrats and Republicans.
If this election is close… if someone carrying his trainload of baggage is able to seriously challenge someone with Hillary Clinton’s resume…the people will have spoken very loudly…
It tells you something about the power of his message. I believe he was on to something in this race. I believe that half the people in this country, maybe more have had with establishment elite politics, they’re tired of the same best and brightest who took us into Vietnam, went for broke there and have come back to take us into Afghanistan and Iraq and Libya and Syria and god knows what next desert war…
Matthews concluded that 40 percent of the electorate are an angry, anti-elite groundswell against “ill conceived wars” (though yes, he also cited immigration policy and trade agreements).
His comments resonate in one respect particularly: There have been no consequences inside the elite for the sponsorship of the Iraq War. Everyone talks about our society’s failure to put any Wall Street bankers in jail for the subprime/credit defaults bubble; but it seems more important that none of the thinkers and journalists who supported the war have suffered any career consequences, or have had to account for their decision. Jeffrey Goldberg was just elevated to one of the prime posts in journalism, editor in chief of the Atlantic, despite having promoted that war with bad reporting; and the Atlantic took care in its gushing statement on his promotion to leave out his support for that war. Shouldn’t that have been the black ball? The New York Times and the New Yorker have never had any kind of truth-and-reconciliation process over their cheerleading the war. And whenever I listen to NPR’s On the Media, I reflect that it will consider a hundred trivial media questions before it looks at Iraq, and for good reason, because its highly-able co-host is married to one of the armchair-war theorists who helped give us this war.
If I am leaving (most) names out of this, it’s because I need to temper my pride over having demonstrated against that war; and because I supported the Libya war, to my everlasting regret.
Matthews’s term “ruling class” is pointedly nostalgic. After Vietnam there was an accounting for the bastards. The best and the brightest were pilloried; university presidents stepped down; Robert McNamara was shunned (and a friend of my wife’s famously tried to push him off the Martha’s Vineyard ferry). Today Iraq is the elephant in the room of the establishment: we all know there has been a complete failure to exercise any real accounting for the terrible decision-making, because of an elite protection racket: too many members of the elite would suffer (and the Israel lobby would have to be named, something no one wants to do, beginning with Matthews). The other night Temple Emanu-El in New York hosted Bill Kristol, one of the lead authors of the Iraq war. Why on earth did that happen? These types of choices mask bitter rancor over the war decision that has divided our society at a deep level, and that Trump often tapped into.
Establishments fall over bad wars; or they should. This establishment has managed to sustain itself like the cartoon character running off the cliff who keeps on running. It’s got to end some time. Happily, Trump won’t do it; but when he loses the burden will be on the media, and thinktanks and ideas festivals, to deal with this question at last. Don’t hold your breath. The accounting probably won’t happen till all the decision-makers are collecting pensions.