black and white electronic devices
American society and the challenges we face, are exceedingly complex. We shouldn’t elect leaders who assert otherwise, Lenhart opines. (capt.sopon/pexels.com)

I had a conversation recently about one of the rising problems in American politics. My friend and I were discussing the reflexive distrust that many have towards certain types of people. During this conversation, my friend pointed me to a recent column by David Brooks that addresses part of the issue.

Opinion

Brooks’ column dealt in part with Republican attitudes toward those perceived as “elites.” He wrote that many Republicans view America as being run (poorly) by a group of coastal elites who are corrupt and only look out for themselves. Brooks recognized the core truth in this belief — which is that there is a lot of overlap between elite institutions in government, media, education and some corporate leadership. There is some truth in the idea that many of our decisions are made by a small group of people with a particular background, connected to particular organizations, located in particular places. However, many holding this belief take it a step too far as they equate what Brooks describes as a “social chasm” with a conspiracy against much of America.

I believe Brooks correctly characterizes this mindset. As Republicans, especially in the American heartland, it is easy to see the decisions made elsewhere and feel as if we are being left behind. We see people disconnected with our way of life making decisions with little apparent understanding of, or interest in, the way such decisions will impact the lives of those outside of their particular circle.

This is certainly valid grounds for anger and protest. However, I am reminded of an old maxim: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” While I would not necessarily describe the decisions made as “stupid,” I would describe many of them as ignorant. Simply put, most of these decisions are not made out of malice towards the people of middle America. Instead, because of the echo chamber that the elite institutions foster, the decisions are made without an understanding of the values and desires of those outside the world of the decision makers, or the impact those decisions have on us. Unfortunately, the result of this disconnect is that many Republicans have begun equating the attributes of the decision makers with the problem itself. They see that most of those who overlook or ignore our views are highly educated and have spent long, successful careers in government or other elite institutions and begin to see all people who fit that description as part of the problem. As a result, they begin also seeing people who speak about the complexity and nuance of our problems as being less trustworthy. Rather than speaking to our experiences — especially the anger that many feel as we see detrimental policies imposed against our will — nuanced explanations of competing interests and unintended consequences come across as disconnected. 

This causes a “race to the bottom” where candidates who speak solely in emotional terms are more successful than those who speak about solutions. The more emotive a candidate — and the less they speak about complexities and specifics — the more likely we are to vote for them. This merely widens the “social chasm” that Brooks spoke of. Instead, what we need is a way to narrow the gap between “elites” and the rest of America.

The solution lies in leadership. We need leaders who can bridge the gap between thoughtful nuance and the shared experience of many of us in “middle America.” We need leaders who recognize the value of complexity and the need for solutions while understanding the anger and frustration that many of us feel. 

This is a big thing to ask of those in leadership. It is not an easy path. There are many who would rather exploit the division for their personal gain. Anger and fear are more compelling motivators than patience and nuance, and much easier to wield. However, patience, nuance, and above all, courage are what we need most from our leaders. 

I do not believe that the elites wish to destroy middle America. When I was in law school, I got a glimpse of the world of the elites. As a smalltown Wyomingite at Harvard Law School, I was certainly in the minority. Many of my classmates came from wealthy backgrounds, had gone to elite undergraduate colleges, and were destined for prestigious jobs at international law firms, corporations and the heights of government. Nevertheless, I cannot recall any that had ill-will toward middle America. They may have thought that those of us in the heartland were a little backwards or behind the times, but I believe the most common attitude was simply not to think about us much at all. 

Instead of rejecting everything associated with out-of-touch decision makers, we Republicans must seek out leaders that can recognize the values and concerns of the American heartland without belittling or disregarding them. We also need leaders that recognize that some issues are complex and require a response based on intense and careful consideration, rather than emotive reaction. Above all, we need leaders that can build the trust necessary to bridge the “social chasm.” Both nuance and understanding are necessary if we are going to build a successful future.

Khale Lenhart

Cheyenne attorney Khale Lenhart is a former chairman of the Laramie County Republican Party. He can be reached at khale.lenhart@gmail.com

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  1. This is really odd to an observant reader.
    The left thrives on emotions. Period.
    Science and faith and economics are nothing to them, politics and power is everything. Bumper sticker slogans and outright lies. Nuance comes from looking at the facts and reconsidering one’s position for the greater good. When have you seen an authoritarian stop and change their mind to serve the people? Democrats will not admit they are wrong. Ever. Some Republican politicians have finally realized the fanatics are what they are. The battle against fanaticism must never falter. They will not stop attacking the Constitution and our values and our rights until they have been exposed and prosecuted. The RINOs will balk. They are feeding at the Nazi trough too and live in fear of discovery. They can double down like Cheney did, but we see them for the carpet baggers they are. Dread the false peacemaker, he only seeks to harm you.

  2. The only way to narrow the gap between the far right, hard left “elites” and “rest of America” is to get the dark money out of the media and politics. Center-out economics makes for an intelligent populace and demands political integrity. A solid middle class produces better genetic social intelligentsia than the scions of mediocre preppy and ivy elites. Congrats on the Wy./Harvard square dichotomy. The answer is quite simple and sadly ignored because it’s easier to talk educated than to act. Dark money pays for the far-right and hard left.

  3. Being from Wyoming, but not being Republican, I’ve heard all the “elitist’s” stuff over and over. However my perspective has always been the ultra rich are the “elite” which in my mind are people like the Koch brothers trying to keep cooperate America in control of all sides of government. To me being educated doesn’t make you “elite” – I would argue that most successful Republicans in politics and business have a better educational pedigree than successful Democrats.
    I also hear the “coastal” thing – but that’s where the people are and the majority of the people get to make the rules. By population standards Wyoming already is more overrepresented than any other state in the Senate, House and Electoral college! And yet are the first to complain about not being listened to…we have a lot of land yes, but not a lot of people – and land doesn’t vote. I can only image how this country would be different if the House of Representatives and Electoral College actually representing the people of America equally. I’m sure it would terrify most Republicans.

  4. Even in the best of times, “nuance” and “politics” are not two words that go together. We are not in the best of times, however–the country is fragmenting in the worst of ways, where violence is becoming the norm.

    The root of that increasing violence lies, quite frankly, in Republican elites pandering to the resentment of whites at black and brown minorities finally getting a piece of the American Dream, as if the American Dream is a zero-sum game.

    The truth of that claim is pretty obvious to me, who grew up in the Bible Belt of the American South during the last 15 years of Jim Crow amid the growing successes of the Civil Rights Movement and the ruthless reaction to those successes. I distinctly remember when Republicans and Richard Nixon adopted the “Southern Strategy” to appeal to white racism and Christian fundamentalism to win elections. Not much nuance there. And it’s only worse fifty years later, as the Republican Southern Strategy has become the Republican National Strategy.

    In today’s highly fragmented and violent society, asking for “nuance” is a pipe dream. Our realistic choices are pretty much limited to either resorting to violence to keep the country together or resorting to violence to break it apart. Speaking for myself as a professional military officer, the sooner we realize that violence is inevitable, the better prepared we’ll be to deal with it for the future of the country.

  5. Thank you for this insightful article. We certainly need people who will help with thoughtful solutions, and we need people to listen to these solutions and not just “emote”. Perspectives like this one give me hope.

  6. Don’t you think it’s the other way around? Maybe Wyoming Republicans should get up to speed with the rest of the world and stop holding everyone else back from progressing. Even the youth don’t want to stick around in the land that time forgot.

    1. Let the youth go to blue states and see what filth and failure looks like.
      Rationed power and water and no human rights.
      1984 on steroids.
      If they like it, they didn’t belong here.

  7. Your column overlooks a very important problem. Our own state isn’t trying to vilify “east” coast elites. It’s busy vilifying our own home-grown people. People who actually care about our state, and never went to Harvard, are being called names in our own state. How do explain that?