Amid investigations into Russian election interference, perhaps we ought to consider whether the Kremlin, to hurt Democrats, helped put Chelsea Clinton on the cover of Variety. Or maybe superstition explains it. Like tribesmen laying out a sacrifice to placate King Kong, news outlets continue to make offerings to the Clinton gods. In The New York Times alone, Chelsea has starred in multiple features over the past few months: for her tweeting (it’s become “feisty”), for her upcoming book (to be titled She Persisted), and her reading habits (she says she has an “embarrassingly large” collection of books on her Kindle). With Chelsea’s 2015 book, It’s Your World, now out in paperback, the puff pieces in other outlets—Elle, People, etc.—are too numerous to count.
One wishes to calm these publications: You can stop this now. Haven’t you heard that the great Kong is no more? Nevertheless, they’ve persisted. At great cost: increased Chelsea exposure is tied closely to political despair and, in especially intense cases, the bulk purchasing of MAGA hats. So let’s review: How did Chelsea become such a threat?
A threat? How so? Read on:
Since Chelsea has 1.6 million followers, we can only conclude that some people enjoy ideas like “Yes. Yes. Yes. Closing the #wagegap is crucial to a strong economy.” And maybe there’s no sin in absorbing and exuding nothing but respectable Blue State opinion. But it’s another thing to insist on joining each day’s designated outrage bandwagon. Did we need to slap down a curmudgeonly Charlotte Rampling, age 71, for griping about #OscarsSoWhite activists? Yes, and here’s Chelsea: “Outrageous, ignorant & offensive comments from Rampling.” Is gender identity not going to be included on the 2020 census? Here’s Chelsea: “This is outrageous. No one should be invisible in America.” Not that there aren’t breaks for deeper thoughts: “Words without action are … meaningless. Words with inaction are … just words. Words with opposite action is … hypocrisy.”
That is … beautiful.
The crude conventional wisdom is that Bill Clinton craved adoration and Hillary Clinton craved power. But Chelsea Clinton seems to have a more crippling want: fashionability—of the sort embraced by philanthropic high society. So you tell The New York Times that your dream dinner party would include James Baldwin, Shakespeare, Franz Kafka, Albert Camus, Jane Jacobs, and Jane Austen, and discussion would be about how “people and communities can evolve to be more inclusive, more kind, have a greater and broader sense of solidarity, while still respecting individual liberties; what provokes or blocks those changes; and what stories might resonate today to encourage us toward kindness, respect, and mutual dignity.” You almost have to bow down before someone who could host Shakespeare for dinner and make the agenda wind up sounding like a brochure for the Altria Group. At least Kafka would be on hand to capture the joy of the evening.
Frank’s view — he is, by the way, a liberal — seems to be that Chelsea Clinton embodies what is wrong with the Democratic Party today: the vapid, brainless posturing that encourages metropolitan, global-oriented elites to believe unreflectively in their own virtue. To get a better idea of what he’s talking about, read this terrific Christopher Caldwell essay about Christophe Guilluy, a Parisian geographer who studies housing policy, and who, through that lens, has come to understand some dark and troubling things about France. Excerpts:
Guilluy has published three books, as yet untranslated, since 2010, with the newest, Le crépuscule de la France d’en haut (roughly: “The Twilight of the French Elite”), arriving in bookstores last fall. The volumes focus closely on French circumstances, institutions, and laws, so they might not be translated anytime soon. But they give the best ground-level look available at the economic, residential, and democratic consequences of globalization in France. They also give an explanation for the rise of the National Front that goes beyond the usual imputation of stupidity or bigotry to its voters. Guilluy’s work thus tells us something important about British voters’ decision to withdraw from the European Union and the astonishing rise of Donald Trump—two phenomena that have drawn on similar grievances.
A process that Guilluy calls métropolisation has cut French society in two. In 16 dynamic urban areas (Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, Toulouse, Lille, Bordeaux, Nice, Nantes, Strasbourg, Grenoble, Rennes, Rouen, Toulon, Douai-Lens, and Montpellier), the world’s resources have proved a profitable complement to those found in France. These urban areas are home to all the country’s educational and financial institutions, as well as almost all its corporations and the many well-paying jobs that go with them. Here, too, are the individuals—the entrepreneurs and engineers and CEOs, the fashion designers and models, the film directors and chefs and other “symbolic analysts,” as Robert Reich once called them—who shape the country’s tastes, form its opinions, and renew its prestige. Cheap labor, tariff-free consumer goods, and new markets of billions of people have made globalization a windfall for such prosperous places. But globalization has had no such galvanizing effect on the rest of France. Cities that were lively for hundreds of years—Tarbes, Agen, Albi, Béziers—are now, to use Guilluy’s word, “desertified,” haunted by the empty storefronts and blighted downtowns that Rust Belt Americans know well.
Guilluy doubts that anyplace exists in France’s new economy for working people as we’ve traditionally understood them. Paris offers the most striking case. As it has prospered, the City of Light has stratified, resembling, in this regard, London or American cities such as New York and San Francisco. It’s a place for millionaires, immigrants, tourists, and the young, with no room for the median Frenchman. Paris now drives out the people once thought of as synonymous with the city.
Yet economic opportunities for those unable to prosper in Paris are lacking elsewhere in France. Journalists and politicians assume that the stratification of France’s flourishing metropoles results from a glitch in the workings of globalization. Somehow, the rich parts of France have failed to impart their magical formula to the poor ones. Fixing the problem, at least for certain politicians and policy experts, involves coming up with a clever shortcut: perhaps, say, if Romorantin had free wireless, its citizens would soon find themselves wealthy, too. Guilluy disagrees. For him, there’s no reason to expect that Paris (and France’s other dynamic spots) will generate a new middle class or to assume that broad-based prosperity will develop elsewhere in the country (which happens to be where the majority of the population live). If he is right, we can understand why every major Western country has seen the rise of political movements taking aim at the present system.
Caldwell talks about how globalization has radically changed French society. The transformation he describes below has its parallel in the fact (hidden from those inside the system) that in our country, the GOP and the Democratic Party are in many respects two sides of the same coin:
The old bourgeoisie hasn’t been supplanted; it has been supplemented by a second bourgeoisie that occupies the previously non-bourgeois housing stock. For every old-economy banker in an inherited high-ceilinged Second Empire apartment off the Champs-Élysées, there is a new-economy television anchor or high-tech patent attorney living in some exorbitantly remodeled mews house in the Marais. A New Yorker might see these two bourgeoisies as analogous to residents of the Upper East and Upper West Sides. They have arrived through different routes, and they might once have held different political opinions, but they don’t now. Guilluy notes that the conservative presidential candidate Alain Juppé, mayor of Bordeaux, and Gérard Collomb, the Socialist running Lyon, pursue identical policies. As Paris has become not just the richest city in France but the richest city in the history of France, its residents have come to describe their politics as “on the left”—a judgment that tomorrow’s historians might dispute. Most often, Parisians mean what Guilluy calls la gauche hashtag, or what we might call the “glass-ceiling Left,” preoccupied with redistribution among, not from, elites: we may have done nothing for the poor, but we did appoint the first disabled lesbian parking commissioner.
Upwardly mobile urbanites, observes Guilluy, call Paris “the land of possibilities,” the “ideapolis.” One is reminded of Richard Florida and other extollers of the “Creative Class.” The good fortune of Creative Class members appears (to them) to have nothing to do with any kind of capitalist struggle. Never have conditions been more favorable for deluding a class of fortunate people into thinking that they owe their privilege to being nicer, or smarter, or more honest, than everyone else. Why would they think otherwise? They never meet anyone who disagrees with them. The immigrants with whom the creatives share the city are dazzlingly different, exotic, even frightening, but on the central question of our time—whether the global economic system is working or failing—they see eye to eye. “Our Immigrants, Our Strength,” was the title of a New York Times op-ed signed by London mayor Sadiq Khan, New York mayor Bill de Blasio, and Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo after September’s terrorist bomb blasts in New York. This estrangement is why electoral results around the world last year—from Brexit to the election of Donald Trump—proved so difficult to anticipate. Those outside the city gates in la France périphérique are invisible, their wishes incomprehensible. It’s as if they don’t exist. But they do.
Here is the key graf:
French elites have convinced themselves that their social supremacy rests not on their economic might but on their common decency. Doing so allows them to “present the losers of globalization as embittered people who have problems with diversity,” says Guilluy. [Emphasis mine — RD] It’s not our privilege that the French deplorables resent, the elites claim; it’s the color of some of our employees’ skin. French elites have a thesaurus full of colorful vocabulary for those who resist the open society: repli (“reaction”), crispation identitaire (“ethnic tension”), and populisme (an accusation equivalent to fascism, which somehow does not require an equivalent level of proof). One need not say anything racist or hateful to be denounced as a member of “white, xenophobic France,” or even as a “fascist.” To express mere discontent with the political system is dangerous enough. It is to faire le jeu de (“play the game of”) the National Front.
Caldwell goes on to say that France’s problems in this regard are more acute in the US, and also harder to face head-on, because the country’s politically correct speech laws make voicing criticism of the system in some respects a violation of the law.
Read the whole thing. It’s very good. Chelsea Clinton is an icon of the non-péripherique class of Americans. As in France, nearly all our leading media and culture-making institutions exist within the same metropolitanized bubble. (It’s not just a left-liberal thing; I refer you once again to Tucker Carlson’s great January 2016 essay laying into the Beltway conservative establishment for not seeing Trump coming).
The problem is not simply one of communication and understanding. There really aren’t jobs for the working class — and, increasingly, for the middle class. And the moral collapse among the poor and working class (think of Charles Murray’s Fishtown) is making a difficult situation worse. Of course the let them eat quinoa, the bigots attitude of The Chelsea Class only exacerbates the situation.
Hard times ahead. As TAC’s Scott McConnell points out, Americans had better watch France, because what happens there first will eventually happen here.