For perhaps the first time ever, it’s not necessarily “cool” in DC to have grown up in a big city and attended an elite college or university. This is one of the more important, yet subtle, developments for our republic resulting from Trump’s victory. And it’s a positive one that should be capitalized upon—beginning in the capital.
Since November 8, the self-appointed guardians of the cultural heights, spanning academia to the media, have been experiencing nothing short of a collective epiphany. With scales falling from their bloodshot eyes, they’re now (finally) seeing there’s not only an America between the coasts, but an America that matters.
The morning after the election, Mika Brzezinski, co-host of MSNBC’s "Morning Joe," declared that the press must embed journalists across the fruited plane if it wishes to understand America. “Tell me,” she entreated others on the set, “a reporter for a major network that lives in Trump country that really knows how people feel and think out there.”
As someone who grew up amidst shuttered steel mills in Pennsylvania, I appreciate Mika’s sentiment. But she’s only halfway to the solution. Will the Millennial who was reared in Greenwich, who went to Groton and Wesleyan, be able to fully empathize with the residents of Toledo and Milwaukee?
It’s simple. The American people don’t just want to be heard, they want to – and have wanted to for a long time – participate in charting America’s future. In turn, the institutions in our country dedicated to serving the citizenry must start recruiting citizens who were born and raised in “Trump country.”
Indeed, if our government is to be capable of understanding and addressing our concerns and aspirations, then Washington must be comprised of people representing the entirety of our diverse nation. I’m suggesting a bottom-up approach, a personnel shift in our nation’s capital involving think tanks, media outlets, and public organizations.
To be clear, I’m not advocating for the imposition of quotas and upheavals at every career level. I’m simply advising that younger, recent graduates of “non-elite” schools ought to be afforded a bit more consideration in hiring. Their résumés shouldn’t immediately be placed on the bottom of the pile.
There is, I can personally attest as a DC denizen, already a change in perspective underway on the boulevards and amidst the marbled buildings of our capital.
Due in large part to the breakaway success of J.D. Vance’s memoir of childhood in Appalachia Ohio and Kentucky, "Hillbilly Elegy," elites who hail from the coasts have become fascinated with those of us from Middle America (i.e., the gun and religion clingers). Not too long ago, they showered us with unbridled disdain. Today we’re anthropological subjects to be poked, prodded, and examined. I suppose that’s progress.
By now, I’m confident someone reading this has thought, “But Trump went to an Ivy League school!” Firstly, the University of Pennsylvania community certainly hasn’t rushed to claim Trump as its own—in the way, for example, Columbia and Harvard did with Obama.
Penn’s administration refused to even comment on Trump’s candidacy during the election. Further, alumni started a Change.org petition, which garnered more than 500 supporters, asking Penn President Amy Gutmann to “disavow the intolerant views of alum Donald Trump.” On November 9, the day after the election, Philadelphia magazine reported “a majority of [Penn’s] faculty, staff, and students embarrassed by their association with a soon-to-be president of the United States.”
But Trump is different in an additional, more substantive way. How many eventual Ivy League graduates walked through a construction site before they turned eighteen? How many Ivy League graduates, who are furiously blogging away in cushy offices about income inequality, have ever walked on a construction site, factory floor, or farm (other than one that grows organic kale)? Sure, they’ve seen economically depressed towns. But they’ve seen them from the comfort of their seat on the Acela to and from Princeton and Harvard for the holidays.
And look, it’s not that the alumni of elite schools aren’t intelligent. It’s not that they’ve (all) been indoctrinated with the wrong ideas about the history and constitution of our nation—to say nothing about their (lack of) instruction in virtue and excellence. It’s simply that they missed out on spending several formative years “out there.”
Plus, I know there’s institutional momentum to overcome. Recent graduates from traditionally prestigious schools will long be viewed by human resources employees as “safe choices,” as easily justifiable picks to their higher-ups. But I have hope that if there’s ever been a moment to capture some new blood, this is it, with the election of Donald Trump, who has pledged to give Washington back to the people.
So to those hiring in D.C., give the twenty-one-year-olds from “flyover country” and Florida State, Wisconsin, and Texas Christian University an interview, or merely a few minutes on the phone. Many of them are just as smart as their counterparts from Hanover, Providence, and New Haven. They’re also darn motivated because they have chips on their shoulders; they feel they have something to prove.
But most significantly, they not only want to make America great again, they’re capable of doing it because they know America.
Jonathan Bronitsky is a Washington, DC-based political historian. He holds a BA in International Politics from Penn State and an MPhil in International Relations and a PhD in History from Cambridge University. He is currently writing a biography of Irving Kristol to be published by Oxford University Press. You can read his writings at jbronitsky.com and follow him on Twitter @jbronitsky.