If there’s one belief that binds the disparate factions of the American right together, it’s the belief in American exceptionalism, both for the nation and for individuals. The mythology that conservatism is about promoting excellence and encouraging strivers is found throughout conservative media and literature, from the story of John Galt in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged to Reagan’s description of America as a “shining city on a hill.” While it often manifests as contempt for the poor and the vulnerable, in the abstract this conservative enthusiasm for doing better could, in theory, be channeled productively toward actually pushing people to achieve.
So why are so many conservatives abandoning this enthusiasm for the exceptional in favor of what can only be described as jealous sniping aimed at people who are actually trying to expand the world creatively and scientifically? There’s a lot of high-falutin’ talk on the right about supporting the strivers, but in practice, the conservative response to someone who tries to stick his head above the crowd is to beat it down with a hammer. Conservatives may think of themselves as lovers of excellence, but in reality, “Who do you think you are?” is swiftly becoming an unofficial right-wing motto.
It’s easy to see why, despite their supposed enthusiasm for excellence, conservative pundits would offer up liberal scientists, journalists, and artists as hate objects for their base. This is a time of economic instability and ordinary people are seeing their fortunes declining. It’s easy to turn that anxiety into rage at people conservative audiences think have easy, charmed lives as coastal elites.