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Henry Farrell in Vox: How the Chris Hayes book Twilight of the Elites explains Trump's appeal

October 14, 2016 by Andrew Young

Writing for Vox, George Washington University political scientist Henry Farrell argues that Chris Hayes’ 2012 book The Twilight of the Elites is having a “real moment” right now. In particular, Hayes’ book – published before the current wave of populist and nationalistic rhetoric and political action in the United States – proposes that “the reality of an unequal country is generating a political crisis, in which people lose their trust in institutions and become radicalized.”

Farrell argues that:

“The crucial insight in Twilight of the Elites is that economic inequality is not just a statistical relationship, in which some people earn more and others earn less. It is also an engine that transforms institutions — the rules, regulations, and practices that every country needs. Elites — the people at the top — have financial, political and social resources. They are able to use these resources to reshape institutions to protect themselves and their children. In contrast, many middle-class people increasingly think that America’s institutions are a rigged game where the powerful and connected have a dealer’s edge.”

Farrell focuses in on Hayes’ discussion of meritocracy in particular:

“Hayes’s book suggests there are a lot of people who think that the system is broken, and that they can be politically mobilized. Donald Trump’s appeal is based on the claim that he is an anti-system politician. Unlike other politicians, he is prepared to tell it like it is, and to stick it to elites. Unsurprisingly, many elites, including elites within the Republican Party, are aghast. Senior Republicans are quietly rooting for Trump to lose. Core members of the intellectual wing of the party have publicly expressed their shock and abhorrence.”

Farrell concludes with a discussion of one issue present in the current U.S. political environment that Hayes does not cover in his book:

“Hayes’s book describes how meritocracy is breaking down, and how American elites and middle-class people are increasingly disconnected from each other. He captures many of the fears and anxieties that are at the heart of the Trump phenomenon. However, there is one crucial factor that his argument doesn’t get — the role of racism and xenophobia. Hayes hoped in 2012 that discontented people on the left and right might find common cause in pushing for institutional reform. Although he wrote about how meritocracy is blind to inequalities of race and income, he had little to say about the relationship between anti-system anger and racism.”

Read more here.