WASHINGTON -- The most offensive and corrosive idea in our politics today is that some Americans are more “real” than others. Don’t you dare buy it.
Republicans are cynically peddling this un-American conceit. “Real Americans” elected and continue to support President Trump, they claim, in defiance of snooty “coastal elites” who are hopelessly out of touch with the country. It’s a total crock, and shame on those using it for political gain.
The whole point of democracy is that every citizen’s voice is supposed to have equal weight -- even voices in favor of fair and compassionate immigration policy, universal health care, fighting racism, promoting gender equality, enshrining LGBT rights and other progressive causes. There is no need to be tentative about these views for fear they somehow make you, I suppose, “unreal.” They do not.
Nor does living within some arbitrary distance of an ocean, having a college education or preferring big-city life deprive anyone of standing as an American. A third-generation Kentucky coal miner and a goateed Brooklyn barista should have equal say in charting the course of the nation.
The miner and the barista don’t actually have equal say, because of the way the Electoral College works, but let’s leave that aside. What I’m talking about is the perceived legitimacy of their political views. The notion has taken hold that since the miner is a “real American,” his views must therefore be more authentic -- and the barista, if he does not share or accede to those views, is “out of touch.”
With world-class hypocrisy, Republican officeholders and activists are selling this load of bull while themselves, by and large, being “coastal elites.”
One recent illustration: No group is supposedly more elitist and clueless than the so-called mainstream media. At the media’s biggest social event of the year, last month’s White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, comedian Michelle Wolf made some biting jokes about the Trump administration. Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, and his wife Mercedes, the White House director of strategic communications, conspicuously stood up and walked out.
“It’s why America hates the out of touch leftist media elite,” Mercedes Schlapp harrumphed on Twitter. She sent the tweet while she and her husband were in a limousine, on their way to a glittering after-party thrown each year by NBC.
I know the Schlapps. They are nice people, when not engaged in demagoguery. They live in the Washington area, as I do; they recently purchased a $3 million home, as I certainly did not. Both have advanced college degrees. Matt Schlapp was a top lobbyist for Koch Industries before taking over at the ACU. The couple also founded their own public relations and lobbying firm. How are they anything but “elite,” according to the false dichotomy they espouse? Why are they any more qualified to speak for ostensibly “real” Americans than the journalists they haughtily deride, virtually all of whom are far less affluent?
To put icing on the cake, Mercedes Schlapp reportedly said at a recent White House meeting that “I stand with Kelly Sadler” -- referring to the White House aide who said of Sen. John McCain’s opposition to CIA nominee Gina Haspel that “it doesn’t matter, he’s dying anyway.” Schlapp is awfully selective about what she finds offensive.
Think for a moment about how ridiculous this whole thing is. President Trump is a billionaire who started life as a millionaire, his father having been a wealthy developer. His Cabinet is a coven of plutocrats. His administration’s most consequential achievement thus far is a tax cut that showers corporations and wealthy citizens with lavish benefits, leaving just peanuts for the middle and working classes. The administration is also waging a relentless campaign to punish immigrants and the poor, apparently for existing.
But Trump cleverly uses cultural, racial and geographical markers to define who is “real” and who is not. And the Republican Party, to its eternal shame, has decided to go along.
Enough. It’s time to call out this ugly charade for what it is. Yes, it matters a great deal what people think in small-town Pennsylvania or rural Texas. But it matters just as much what people think in the rebuilding inner cores and thriving suburbs of our major cities, even if those cities happen to be on or near a coast.
Progressives have to speak to those left behind by wrenching economic and social change. But our voices are as authentic, and as worthy, as anyone else’s. I am a real American, too. Deal with it.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.