Columnist, historian and former Fresno State professor Victor Davis Hanson was back in town Monday to speak before a packed house at the Fresno Rotary Club’s lunch meeting. The far-reaching talk tackled international topics like the rise of the Islamic State terrorist group and Brexit shock, but focused primarily on the current American political climate.
Hanson, who was born on and still operates a 40-acre farm in Selma, also worked to tie the larger issues and ideas from his speech into central San Joaquin Valley happenings, such as the construction of high-speed rail.
Hanson began by speaking on Brexit, the popular term for the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union, and how it relates to the rise of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Both are populist movements – the result of average people lashing out at those whom they perceive as elite.
“What’s different about these reactions in Europe, Britain and here in the United States is that we have redefined what it is we don’t like as an elite,” Hanson said. “Who are these people? Well, they’re not necessarily the .001 percent. More likely, they are affluent people with certain characteristics.”
This elite class includes the Clintons and Obamas, but also wealthy, highly educated figures like university presidents, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and some celebrities, Hanson said. These people feel as if they have good taste and more in common with cosmopolitan people in other countries than with most of their fellow Americans. Many of these people feel compelled to lead because they believe they know what is better for us more than we do.
Hanson, whose columns are published by The Fresno Bee, believes it is a growing contempt for this class that has fueled Trump.
“If he were to be elected, it’s the first time in the history of the American presidency that somebody would be elected who, A) did not hold prior political office, and B) had not been in the military,” Hanson said. “This is utterly unique. Nobody’s ever seen anything like it.”
People dislike the elites because they often are incompetent, Hanson said. Degrees from prestigious universities do not mean what they used to, but still are looked at as major accomplishments.
“The thing that starts to bother us about these people is they tell us all of these things that are good for us, but we don’t think they know what they’re doing,” Hanson said. “Does anybody really believe that after $300 billion we’re going to have a high-speed rail to zoom up and down California?”
Most of the crowd laughed at the question.
Hanson went on to say that many elites are hypocritical. They preach opening the United States’ borders and integrating these new immigrants into the public education system, but then they send their kids to private school. He mentioned that Zuckerberg, for example, said during a visit to Mexico that only backward Americans wanted to build a wall between the two countries. Walls never work.
“Of course, they always work in history,” Hanson said. “That’s why Israel built a wall that works pretty well at keeping people out. The Chinese weren’t stupid in the 14th century. So Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t think it’s stupid because he’s building a huge wall around his estate in Hawaii. He built a wall around his estate in San Francisco, and he bought all of the neighboring houses around his home in Palo Alto.”
Americans don’t like elites because many believe they are above the law. He pointed to the scandal surrounding Hillary Clinton’s deletion of thousands of emails and the Clinton Foundation, which Hanson believes serves mainly as funding for family air travel and paying staffers in non-election years – not as a charity.
These elites also target the middle class, Hanson said. They create systems that allow their upper class peers to avoid taxes or prosecution, and they allow the poor some of the same exemptions because they romanticize the poor. The middle class is left with the bill.
This talk excited the crowd, with one Rotarian telling Hanson he was the best speaker they’ve had all year. Another asked whether he could name two Democrats he would support for office.
“Well, we have got to leave by 1:30,” he said, glancing at the clock. A roar of laughter flowed through the room.
Hanson said that he is a registered Democrat, but he believes the party is now more interested in diversity than unity, which doesn’t stack up with history. All previous successful countries valued unity. He believes some calls for diversity are divisive.
“That’s my problem with the Democratic Party,” Hanson said. “It plays identity politics. It says things like the black vote, the Latino vote, the white vote. What does that mean? Does that mean we all have to vote according to the way we look?”