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How Inbred Elites Are Tearing America Apart

MSNBC's anchor Chris Hayes pins Iraq, the economy, Katrina and more on elites — says we all must get radicalized now.

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It’s Alex Jones … totally.

We are all truthers now. There were James Gandolfini truthers this morning.

There were Michael Hastings truthers emailing me.

There is a connection. So there are pathologies that afflict the American right that have to do with a whole bunch of things that a lot of people have written very smartly about. Race, ethnicity, demographic change, is one set of those issues. The increasingly secular/religious divide in America is another. The fact that the party is increasingly a Southern party and the South has always been different. In the history of the U.S. experiment, there’s like another country called the South. There’s a million maps you could construe on a bunch of different dimensions that show that; the South has always been a different place for a bunch of different reasons.

So the way that the current conservative moment, the American right and the Republican Party, manifest themselves, the way they express themselves and the way they behave, are kind of overdetermined by a set of different factors, but the two ways that overlap, I think, in the book is the role that inequality plays in it. There’s a sort of plutocratic set – this vector of the party that is essentially just kind of procuring the heart for the 1 percent. Not to minimize the 1 percent’s influence on the Democratic Party, but Larry Bartels and Martin Gillens’ data on this shows the correlation between the Republican Party and wealthy voters is much higher than Democrats. But the other thing is the point you’re making, the place where there’s this overlap, and that has to do with the base idea, which is this kind of nihilistic distrust of the experts in any field — when Jack Welch wonders about the Labor Department’s jobs report. You would have this shocking moment where it’s like, “You’re Jack Welch. You had to manage this multibillion-dollar enterprise and now you’re in Alex Jones land …”

It’s hard to pull people out of that quicksand, I think. I’m not sure what the answer is for that. But there’s a market for it – there’s a strong market for that. Glenn Beck has never made more money.

It creates a real problem, especially as you talk in this book about an Occupy/ Tea Party coalition, and also about a radicalized upper middle class. If the divisions are being manufactured along these kinds of partisan lines, it gets harder and harder to bring people together along some kind of economic or class lines.

Yeah, that’s always true. It’s generally hard to build political coalitions; we have the ones we have for all sorts of reasons that actually make a fair amount of sense. But it also means that there’s, like, this fundamental disconnect in how that manifests itself in producing this kind of elite accountability writ large that you’d want to have.

How do we create this radicalized upper middle class? It makes perfect sense that all of those people who have lost jobs or seen pension plans go away  or seen careers melt due to the collapse of entire fields would somehow become more angry. Yet it’s still almost impossible to imagine a Turkish-style protest here. The idea of people not showing up for work and protesting – we’re as difficult a country to imagine that happening in as any.

I think right now a lot depends on the precariousness of the recovery and how that kind of manifests itself. One thing I will say is that it’s difficult to predict these outbursts. The Brazilian thing is fascinating because I don’t think anyone would have thought – and that’s kind of like Turkey. Sometimes discontent catalyzes in a way that’s unexpected.

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