Fareed Zakaria on ‘The two sins that defined this election’

fareed_zakaria_peabody_awards_2012_croppedHere’s another thing I recommend if you’re looking for good commentary on the election.

I complained yesterday that I found most of what I was reading unsatisfactory. Perhaps the best, most helpful piece I’ve read yet was this one by Fareed Zakaria, headlined “The two sins that defined this election.”

By way of spoiler, the two sins are:

  1. The utter disdain in which elites held Trump voters.
  2. The real racism that was at work in support for Trump.

So, as you see, he has criticism for both sides.

You should read the whole thing. An excerpt:

Over the past three or four decades, the United States has sorted itself into a highly efficient meritocracy, where people from all economic walks of life can move up the ladder of achievement and income (usually ending up in cities). It is better than using race, gender or bloodlines as the key to wealth and power, but it does create its own problems. As in any system, some people won’t ascend to the top, and because it is a meritocracy, it is easy to believe that that’s justified.

A meritocracy can be blind to the fact that some people don’t make it because they have been unlucky in some way. More profoundly, it can be morally blind. Even those who score poorly on tests or have bad work habits are human beings deserving of attention and respect. The Republicans’ great success in rural communities has been that even though they often champion economic policies that would not help these people — indeed, policies that often hurt them — they demonstrate respect, by identifying with them culturally, religiously and emotionally….


30 thoughts on “Fareed Zakaria on ‘The two sins that defined this election’

  1. Norm Ivey

    “A meritocracy can be blind to the fact that some people don’t make it because they have been unlucky in some way. ”

    I can’t imagine any commentators on this blog having an opinion on this….

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I know Doug and Bud will have a few things to say about that, but I think the most profound part of that excerpt is this: “Even those who score poorly on tests or have bad work habits are human beings deserving of attention and respect.”

      I think that’s a truth that a LOT of us have trouble embracing.

      For me, it’s easy to think I’m special because I test well. I don’t go around SAYING it, but often a certain smugness on that point shows through. I make fun of myself when it does, but still… it’s inexcusable….

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        As for “bad work habits…” My work habits were formed working for newspapers, and they served me very well. I was made for working on deadline.

        Those habits aren’t so great outside of newspapers. If I don’t feel that permanent PANIC, the adrenaline rush of it needing to be done RIGHT NOW, I find it hard to get started on a task. I’m learning, but my brain was trained to the daily deadline model for many, many years….

      2. Claus

        I have more of an issue with the hard worker vs. the slacker/millenial. You get out what you put in. If you’re a slacker/millenial with a million excuse, well I have a million excuses why you aren’t being paid more.

  2. Pat

    I think I am offended by the commentary on why people stay in rural communities and don’t “move up the ladder”. Having grown up in a rural community and recently reconnected with some high school alumni via reunion activities, I know that some people chose to stay there. They are as bright as any I’ve met anywhere and harder working than most I know. And some are quite wealthy. They have very rooted connections in the community and a hiarchy of their own. Some are well traveled and many have wisdom not found in a bustling, fast-paced city where the commutes are long and time is short. And it’s not like they have no connections elsewhere. Success has many definitions.
    But I would point out that many have been cheated or taken advantage of by the same hucksters as the city dwellers. Remember those who lost 401ks because of dishonest CEOs and their retirement years have ended up struggling. If they ever become disillusioned by Trump or the Republican Party, it will be because they go back to the same policies that caused the last meltdown while the CEOs come out of it with a huge bonus. These are the people who have been left holding an empty bag.

    1. Claus

      Pat I agree with everything you said. I have a similar background and go home to those “uneducated folk” who show up to the reunion in their $60,000 pickups, visit them on their 1200 acre farm (they cash rent another 3000+ acres) and tour their $100,000 machine sheds filled with $$800k – $2 million worth of farm equipment (most of which is used for 4-6 weeks a year). Apparently they missed the memo stating that a 22 year old with a Master’s degree in Muslim Transexual Studies working at Starbucks is more valuable to this country than a 50 year old farmer who went from high school to the field. Just think of what those country bumpkins could have done with a Master’s degrees.

      1. Pat

        Claus, it sounds like you grew up where I did, except the farmers I know got business degrees because they already knew farming. They are already up and working two hours before breakfast, come in at the hottest hour of the day for lunch and go back out and work until dark. Somewhere in there, they negotiate with buyers, pay their employees, balance their books, and somehow find time to serve their community in some aspect.

  3. Jeff Mobley

    I agree with Pat that Zakaria’s analysis of urban vs. rural as a stratification produced by “meritocracy” is simplistic at best, and condescending at worst. Obviously cities offer lots of opportunities that rural areas typically don’t. But there are a hundred factors unrelated to work ethic or aptitude that could explain why people live in the places they do. But hey, at least Zakaria is attempting some introspection, I suppose.

  4. Bill

    I’m sorry, I like Zakaria, but I’m not buying what he’s peddling here, not all of it anyway. The “elites” now apparently feel like they have to engage in self-chastising, throw ashes on their collective egg heads, because they supposedly didn’t realize how much people out there were hurting. Sorry, but the average Trump voter is not doing all that badly. His voters are middle class. The working class (those making under $50,000/year), the people who are actually struggling, voted in the majority Democratic (52% to 41%).

    So what motivated so many middle class people to embrace the Trump? (Aside from the Hillary hating, I mean.) From talking with the Trump enthusiasts in the neighborhood (and not just during this election season, but over years prior to this), in large part it seems to be the fear that somebody is going to take their piece of the pie away from them – or from their children (who “rightfully” own a slice, too). They’re worried about the prospect of slipping backwards. Not because they are. Like I said, they’re doing fine. Things may be expensive and getting ever more so, but they get along ok and their standard of living is generally inching upward, not down. And yet they have the nagging suspicion that there’s a vast conspiracy of lazy, spoiled good-for-nothings and malcontents (and “illegals”) out there who are somehow dragging them backward and the country down – by not wanting to work hard, pay their way, take responsibility, keep out of trouble and be the good, upstanding middle-class-minded folk like they are. They’re afraid somebody is about to pick their pockets. They’re not sure how to make it happen, but they’d like to see those folks, the great underclass Other, be either left to their own resources or whipped into shape. They see themselves as the “adults” and these others as essentially children, who need to be taught.

  5. Harry Harris

    There’s less opportunity for moving upward in business in rural America and small towns. In my experience (I’m a small-town guy through and through) if you’re not family connected (to some wealth), your chances in business are much smaller, and your middle class prospects lie mainly in the public sector – teacher, social worker, government employee, etc. In some high poverty communities, there is almost no middle class outside the social services or family-connected groups. There are a set of wealthy folks and a lot of working poor and under-employed.
    As to the margins and turn-out, look hard at the “evangelical” religious communities, at all income levels. Without Trump’s thin, half-hearted, lip-service embrace of the religious-right’s buzz words and claims of adherence to doctrines he can barely quote, much less explain, he would have been out, and he knows it. The religious right, in my view sold their souls in moving their allegiance from the Bush/Cruz/Rubio trio who divided their votes to the epitome of fake religion (and I would argue denial of Jesus’s teaching). Because of their perception of public policy relating to sex, birth control, abortion, and theology-controlled public policy, they have put the public good in much greater jeopardy. I consider it as large of a pact with the Devil as the Clintons’ embrace of Dick Morris and his clones.

    1. Scout

      Harry you are channeling me today. Thanks for stating my thoughts better than I could today. I live in West Columbia but drive 35 miles and work in a rural community. Your description is exactly what I see. I feel similarly about the Christian right selling themselves out. It is one of the most disheartening things about this whole thing for me.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      OK, folks, let me submit this for your approval…

      I don’t think, as James Carville said, that “It’s the economy, stupid.” In fact, I’ve never thought that, and probably never will. (Hey, if I’m not going to think it after my own experiences of the last few years, I don’t know when I would.) Like Pope John Paul the Great, I tend to look askance at materialistic explanations of the world, from capitalism to communism.

      So I think we miss the boat when we try to explain the rural and small-town Trump phenomenon as being about economic dislocation, about being left behind in the wealth race. I’m not saying it’s not an element — a national disaster of this magnitude has many causes — I just would caution people not to overemphasize it.

      To some extent, liberals who TRY to reach out and understand the Trump voters tend to gravitate toward the economic factor, because at least they can muster some sympathy with that, especially if they lean toward the Bernie end of the spectrum.

      What they have far more trouble identifying with is the cultural factor. And I think that’s because that’s where they have the greatest contempt for those who are on “the wrong side of history” (a phrase I wish liberals would drop — it’s so nakedly, although perhaps unintentionally, Marxist, and doesn’t win them many friends among us unaligned folk). People who cling to traditional morality are simply horrid bigots to the left, and beneath any sort of consideration, much less respect.

      I don’t mean everyone, or those virtually present. Scout seems to me to express sympathy when she says “the Christian right selling themselves out” is “the most disheartening things about this whole thing for me.” That it’s disheartening because she has a heart for the traditionalists. Or perhaps I’m reading that in because although I’m not exactly one of them, I do, and Scout and I practically always agree.

      Because I’m the opposite way from the attitude that I think predominates on the Left. I have much more sympathy for the moral traditionalists than I do for the people who lash out destructively because they’re mad at their economic lot in life. I find them more admirable.

      And like Scout, I hate to see the way they’ve been taken in and used. There’s little question in my mind that, as a Methodist, Hillary Clinton is far closer to conservative Christians in her world view than that Caligula-class hedonist Donald Trump.

      But because they’ve conditioned themselves to make their electoral decisions on the basis of a few litmus issues, and Trump has sorta, kinda (but oh, so ineptly) learned to push those buttons, they voted for him.

      And it’s a tragedy on quite a few levels…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        A digression on something that just struck me. Harry mentioned “sex, birth control, abortion” (and, to be fair, “theology”), and while I’m not directing this comment at Harry, he made me think of something.

        A lot of liberals like to say, contemptuously, that traditionalists are obsessed with sex, because of the fights they choose to have with the march of “history.”

        It occurs to me that, if they stop to think about it, moral conservatives might think it’s the liberals who are sex-obsessed, because those are the areas where they seem most eager to sweep traditional morality aside — thereby causing the conservatives to react on those fronts.

        Just something to consider…

      2. bud

        I find the phrase “moral traditionalist” extremely off putting. What does that even mean? Does that describe the Dugger family or something a bit less extreme? It is impossible to respond to weasel phraseology.

        1. bud

          If you mean by “moral traditionalist” legal opposition to inter racial marriage or pre marital sex then yes those beliefs are immoral. Or are we talking about more recent developments like the NC bathroom bill? And if you’re a gay couple don’t you have good reason to find opponents of gay marriage tyrants? How do yoga pants fit into “moral traditionalism”?

          Not sure how any of these issues fit into the Trump phenomenon. He even said it was ok for anyone to use any bathroom in Trump tower.

            1. Harry Harris

              If opposition to extramarital sex among “conservatives” were anywhere close to their opposition to kinds of sex different from what they practice, I would be more sympathetic. My comment about the sex issue regards the public policy aspects – condom distribution, educating school children about safer sex, opposition to aggressive forms of birth control such as Plan B, most sodomy laws, marital laws, and a few other measures designed to put religious scruples into public policy. There have been times when “conservative” promoted policy seemed to me to utilize having a baby as the penalty of having sex out of wedlock.
              As far as traditional views regarding sex, I’m likely more old-fashioned in my judgments than most people I know. I don’t want my views codified into law, but I certainly think our society and religious institutions need to examine the harmful and beneficial effects of sexual mores and trends. We likely will not because, frankly, sex sells.

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                True enough, Harry.

                The human capacity for rationalization is stretched to its limit when we’re trying to justify doing what we ought not to do — if it involves that strongest of drives…

                1. bud

                  Sex is like any other human activity. Eating candy, drinking beer, smoking are all enjoyable activities that when abused can lead to series consequences. Being opposed to those activities is fine. Have at it. If you believe like the Duggers that even holding hands before marriage is a sin then don’t do it. It’s the “codified into law” aspect that is immoral. And don’t think for one second that many on the extreme right would not go in that direction if they could. The election of Trump shows that a return to buggery laws or a ban on inter-racial marriage is not all that far fetched.

            2. bud

              I’m suggesting LEGAL opposition to sex between consenting adults is immoral. Are you going to throw people in jail for that. Yes, I absolutely find that extremely immoral. And by the way I said PRE marital, not EXTRA marital. I don’t know of anyone who believes cheating on one’s spouse is not wrong. Still don’t think it should be illegal.

              1. bud

                And by the way, if we’re going to go all bible on this issue then there are plenty of biblical quotes that suggest gaudy displays of wealth are immoral. Is there a soul who has ever lived that violates that more than Donald J. Trump.

                1. Bart

                  bud, you are correct about an ostentatious display of wealth being immoral according to the Bible and the teachings of Jesus Christ but then one must ask, are John Kerry’s, Bill and Hillary Clinton’s, the Kennedy’s, the Bush’s, and the extreme homes and entertainment industry top earner’s display of wealth much different than Trump’s? They may not be on display the way Trump’s are but they are there just the same.

                  Every succumb to some of the click bait that shows the homes of some of the very liberal celebrities and gaudy display of how they live? I have and it is amazing to see the extreme extravagance of so many who are such hypocrites when it comes to telling others how they should live and sacrifice but will purchase property in front of their home for millions just to have it torn down so they can have a better view of the water. Now that one example is in my estimation a greater display of selfish and gaudy behavior than anything Trump has done. It didn’t make headlines but it was just as bad. Might want to check out the young Facebook billionaire who did that recently.

                  Ever see photos of Bill Gates home? It could house several families and still have room left over. The list can go on and on and most, at least 95% of them are liberal Democrats who go on and on about how everyone else should sacrifice for the common good. And most of them own several homes not only her but in other countries.

                  And what about the large number of extremely wealthy Democrats living in NYC? A friend has an 800 square foot apartment close to the Battery in Manhattan worth millions but it is too small so he and his wife have a much larger one in another location in Manhattan plus another residence on Fire Island worth several hundred thousand at the time of purchase and probably worth millions by now.

                  The Hamptons is rift with mansions comparable to Buckingham Palace and most if not all are Democrats.

                  The same thing is true for Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Dallas-FT. Worth, Atlanta, Miami, and every other city known for extravagant living.

                  And do you thing for one moment the liberal Democrats would ever invite you or me and our family into their home for the weekend just to “hang out”? I think you know the answer.

                  My point is simple. When it comes to money and a close knit society of wealthy elitists, politics is not high on the list of priorities. No matter what their political persuasion may be, try to get between them (Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Communists, Socialists, or any other socio-political group) and you will find out rather quickly how they will turn on you to protect what they have.

                  And a person with little can be as guilty of greed as a person with billions. It is all in the heart, not necessarily the wallet.

                  So, to answer your question about a soul who has ever lived whose display of gaudy wealth was greater, the answer it yes, all you need to do is look around.

                2. Bart

                  FWIW, I lost a friendship over the old television show, “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”. While at his home, the show was being discussed and I made the comment that it was one of the worst possible shows ever to be broadcast because of the message that wealth was the most important pursuit and it was necessary to prove it by living a lifestyle that was never going to be achieved by 99.999% of viewers. I watched the show maybe a couple of times was completely turned off by the over the top gaudy display of wealth.

              2. Harry Harris

                Extra-marital sex is kinda illegal in most states if the partner objects – grounds for a costly divorce, and rightly so. Also, try getting caught doing it in the military. Of course, if one avoids breaking our society’s greatest commandment (Thou shalt not get caught), all bets are off among any groups, including scrupulous moral meddlers.

      3. Bill

        Ok, then, on to the “cultural factor.” Another way of putting that is “white identity.” And another way of putting that is “tribalism.” Read on:


        Of course few will take stuff like this seriously, because it comes from those egghead, liberal intellectuals and the lying mainstream media. Tragically, in trying to stick it to those terrible lefties/liberals and the good-for-nothing layabouts, white tribe has shot itself in the foot – and maybe the country along with it. Such a con job. Read on:


  6. Lynn Teague

    For many evangelical leaders this is all about power, not about the underlying issues. Evangelical leaders are using these issues to manage and energize a constituency, and then to trade the votes of that constituency to politicians for personal power. If they were serious about the gospel they would be very different people.


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