Are 'Elites' to Blame for the Rise of Donald Trump?

Who is at fault for the Donald Trump phenomenon? An audience of New York elites attended a debate on Tuesday night in Manhattan and ultimately delivered a surprising verdict. 

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and Wall Street Journal foreign affairs columnist Bret Stephens began his opening argument at the Intelligence Squared U.S. event by noting that those sitting in the crowd at the Kaufman Center on Manhattan's Upper West Side are themselves the so-called elites. How many had traveled to Europe in the last five years? How many had graduate degrees? How many knew whether Sancerre was red or white wine?

As the majority of the audience raised their hands, he said, "I hate to break it to you, but you are the elite."

Would a group of elites then go on to acknowledge that they were, in fact, to blame for Trump?

Intelligence Squared U.S., a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that hosts a series of Oxford-style debates, this week kicked off its latest season with a timely discussion on the current election. The motion being debated: blame the elites for the Trump phenomenon. To decide the winner, the audience voted on the motion twice, once before the debate and then after. The team that swayed the most voters won.

Tim Carney, senior political columnist at The Washington Examiner and visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and Ben Domenech, publisher of The Federalist, argued for the motion. Stephens and Jennifer Rubin, author of The Washington Post's "Right Turn" blog, argued against.

Carney offered up a more specific (and less audience-encompassing) definition of the elites than Stephens: "the people in power and in elected office who have been in charge of the country for the last couple of decades." And he and Domenech made the argument that the Trump phenomenon is, in fact, their fault.

"It's a lot more than just racism and misogyny," said Domenech. "It's a rejection of Republican orthodoxy that's been around for a long time when it comes to the economy. It's rejection of Republican foreign policy, explicitly over and over again."

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