The rise of the Resentniks and the populist war on excellence

In such a situation, you’re almost bound to get a return of blood-and-soil nationalism. The losers in the meritocratic competition, the permanent outsiders, seize on ethnic nationalism to give themselves a sense of belonging, to explain their failures, to rally the masses and to upend the meritocracy.

In office, what the populist nationalists do is this: They replace the idea of excellence with the idea of “patriotism.” Loyalty to the tribe is more important than professional competence. In fact, a person’s very lack of creativity and talent becomes proof of his continued reliability to the cause, as we’ve seen in the continued fealty to King Trump.

While there is a sprinkling of good professionals in the Trump administration, they are there by accident, not by intent. Many of those staffing the White House could not get a job in any normal Republican administration, which selected people according to any traditional criteria of excellence.