Consider an alternate hypothesis. That we, the new dwellers of cities, have not been living in a democracy for some time, but rather an oligarchy, bolstered by identity politics and multicultural coalitions. Legitimacy has been given to this oligarchy through an “othering” of rural America. Many of us “escaped” from these areas and speak of the experience as exactly that – an escape. We were bullied for being too bookish, too irreligious, too gay, too black or too brown. We turned that bullying back against those who bullied us.
The great irony is that many of us “liberals” have been sharing studies decrying global capitalism and the rise of the oligarchy for a while. Yet we repeatedly select candidates who, in their unfettered belief in the meritocracy, best perpetuate this oligarchy. This deference to the status quo, which has benefited us, has happened in both parties. We sit at the top of the meritocracy. Obama promised a change, and we know in our hearts that he did not deliver – more centrism, more free trade, and more third way liberalism. We retreated into high-paying professions – investment banking and consulting and corporate law. We gave our bodies and our minds and our spirits to corporations, and we call them people, because they are made up of people who look and act like us.
We neglected our civic responsibilities and lauded those who, in fact, repudiated us. Elizabeth Warren, a comfortable tenured Harvard professor, gave up that life to fight. Bernie Sanders, who, at age 73, thrust himself onto the national stage in an attempt to save the Democrats from themselves. We contributed to the coarsening of discourse by decrying opposition as “fact-free,” “delusional” and “ignorant.” We used the language of bigotry too quickly and too freely, so that when a true bigot emerged, we had stripped the word of its meaning. We needed a way to convince ourselves that as we pushed out the urban poor, we had somehow earned this, through our increasingly longer workdays and addiction to checking smartphone emails, oblivious to our own role in perpetuating the oligarchy.
If you truly consider yourself a progressive, you have a chance to change for the better. To consider downsizing your life and starting a small business. To take your innumerable skills and degrees and put them to use in defending the vulnerable, in cultivating local capitalism, or in running for office.
Or, you can continue to take your first class flights, your expensive climate-damaging vacations, and continue to trade service for self-enrichment. You can be a Donald Trump with “liberal” values. Whether you believe in Heaven or not, as Jesus said to His disciples, "Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” And it is very hard for a rich person to be truly progressive.
Whatever you decide, you will probably be fine either way, history tells us. But when the history books are written, when your children ask what you did when authoritarianism came to America, you will only be able to tell them you just went to work, business as usual, and shut the doors of your heart.