Since the 1970s, elites in the U.S. have garnered a disproportionate share of economic growth, while the masses have remained economically stagnant.
This economic stagnation has led to selfishness and paranoia, as blue collar white men have turned xenophobic for fear that immigrants will enter the workforce and take their scarce jobs, blaming gay and transgender people and Muslims for deteriorating marriages that arise from their increasing economic irrelevance relative to their wives, and blaming minorities in the same economic boat as they are for their misfortunes in what they see as an unfair competition. Their misinterpretation of their reality is a natural as it is inaccurate and demagogues have fed it to them.
But, most of the elites of the United States, free of this scarcity, while hardly liberal across the board, have kept their heads.
Doctors, lawyers and business chiefs are smart, understand a global and changing world that is diverse, and need to have a firm grasp of reality to have the high level of economic functionality that has allowed them to seize such a large share of economic growth. They work hard. They are quicker to recognize allies than enemies. They live in a world where fraud and lies are punished harshly and merit is rewarded. They have no shortage of meaningful work and for the most part, they work hard.
Our Fortune 500 companies, our medium sized businesses, our colleges and universities, our public and private pre-collegiate schools, our government agencies, our laboratories and factories, many of our judges, our newspapers and magazines, our museums and even a fair share of our mainline and historically black churches and non-Christian religious institutions are overwhelmingly run by competent, hard working, rational, fair minded people who aren't haters, who are engaged with reality, who are not terribly corrupt.
Unfortunately, while the quality of most our nation's elites is consistent, pro-social and competent, our political leadership, which as it is designed to be, is responsive to the general public, and not just the elites, is decidedly less consistent, more anti-social and less competent, on average.
People like Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Governor LePage of Maine, Senator Ted Cruz, Attorney General Sessions, Vice President Pence, and President Trump, who are coursing with hate, who are mired in a past that never was, who are impervious to facts or reality, and who have priorities that utterly defy common sense, are typical in politics, especially in Republican politics as conservative elites have lost control of their party, while Democrats have managed to remain relatively sane. There are a handful of pretty off balance Democrats, but the party that has changed over the last few decades and has gone off the rails in the process is the GOP.
Democrats have held fast to a trusteeship model of political representation in which politicians, aided by their superior access to knowledge and educations strive to make their constituents better off. Republicans political leaders, in contrast, has sought to carry out the preferences of ordinary conservatives even knowing full well that many of those preferences undermine the well being of the people who hold them and are misguided.
For all of the flaws of our democracy, just as for all the flaws of our capitalist economy, the problems we experience as to a significant extent side effects of their features. Our politics are ugly because our country had a deep cultural rift that isn't healing that is being translated into politics through politicians doing what their constituents want. Our inequality and poverty flows in large part from our economy too accurately matching productivity to economic rewards.
Our elites know this and aren't deeply attached to pure democracy or pure capitalism. Our masses do not. But, the liberal masses trust their political leaders to do what is right for them and get good policy initiatives in return, while the conservative masses trust no one and get men made in their own image trying to run the country, however poorly, in return.
It is a fool's errand to try to turn conservatives into liberals. But, our nation would be a better place if conservative elites could wrest the Republican party from the deeply flawed individuals that their rank and file has elevated to power.