A regular talking point of conservatives when criticizing their political opponents is to characterize them as “elites.” It's often used as a slur to suggest that those who disagree with conservative values on guns, marriage, abortion and immigration are out of touch and have little in common with the average American.
But President Trump's use of the term Wednesday at a rally in Duluth, Minn., makes one wonder whether there could be more behind some conservatives blasting of those deemed “elite.” He told the crowd:
You ever notice they always call the other side “the elite”? The elite! Why are they elite? I have a much better apartment than they do. I’m smarter than they are. I’m richer than they are. I became president, and they didn’t. And I am representing the greatest, smartest, most loyal, best people on Earth, the deplorables.
It appears that Trump doesn't just have a problem with those in the exclusive club of elites. It sounds as if he's expressing frustration that he is not a part of that select group. His boasts about his residence, bank account and intelligence sound like someone who wants membership in a club that has repeatedly rejected him.
The Atlantic's McKay Coppins unpacked the possible reasons for this in 2017, early in Trump's presidency, in a piece titled “The Outer-Borough President.” He wrote:
The president’s behavior begins to make more sense once you understand the stories he’s long told himself — about his roots, his rise, and, especially, his “haters.” That he is easily provoked and perpetually aggrieved is not a revelation, of course. But Trump harbors a very specific kind of class anxiety that’s rooted in the topography of his native New York City.
Though he was born into a wealthy family, partaking of the various perks and privileges afforded to millionaires’ offspring, Trump grew up in Queens — a pleasant but unfashionable borough whose residents were sometimes dismissed by snooty Manhattanites as “bridge-and-tunnel people.” From a young age, he was acutely aware of the cultural, and physical, chasm that separated himself from the city’s aristocracy. In several interviews and speeches over the years, he has recalled gazing anxiously across the East River toward Manhattan, desperate to make a name for himself among the New York elite.
Trump has since made a name for himself — in New York City and, more unexpectedly, in Washington. As he reminded his Minnesota supporters, he won the presidency — which by one definition automatically puts him among the elites: "a group of persons exercising the major share of authority or influence within a larger group."
By all accounts, Trump supporters — or as Trump called them, "the deplorables" — exercise the major share of authority and influence within the Republican Party, which is the governing party in the United States. The group's values on racial issues, the economy, immigration and other cultural issues has a louder and bolder advocate in the Oval Office than at any other time in recent history.
But perhaps the reason it is difficult to embrace that definition is because Trump and many of his supporters believe that winning isn't all that matters. It matters that you be viewed as a winner. And for a president who has been quick to lob the label “loser” at those with whom he didn't find favor, knowing that there are many Americans who don't want him in their club is a great source of anger.