There are stirrings of populist revolts around the world. Earlier this year, Canada’s capital was rocked by the Freedom Convoy, a trucker-led grassroots group of citizens fed up with being demonized and forced out of public life by the Trudeau government’s political vaccine mandates. I went up to Ottawa to report on the unprecedented protest, and the frustration ordinary Canadians felt towards their government was palpable (I highly recommend Andrew Lawton’s bestselling book The Freedom Convoy, which details the movement’s emergence and the unnecessary government crackdown).
Visiting the Netherlands earlier this summer, I saw tractors festooned with enormous signs and Dutch flags parked at roadsides, and blockades on major overpasses and arterial roads manned by dozens of cab tractors, trucks, and flag-wielding farmers protesting the government’s green policies, which threaten to strangle the agricultural sector. The farmers let our car through—they weren’t angry at us—and despite the clusters of cops skulking about, they barbequed and drank beer in the median while blasting their music. As with the Freedom Convoy, solidarity lifted spirits.
Concurrent with the Dutch protests was the revolt in Sri Lanka as a government-mandated ban on the importation and use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides for the nation’s two million farmers led to a nearly immediate plunge in crop yields, with domestic rice production falling so precipitously that the usually self-sufficient Sri Lanka was forced to import $450 million of the staple food while prices skyrocketed. With brutal inflation and exploding poverty, protestors swarmed the presidential palace in mid-July and photos of people swimming in his pool went viral. Sri Lanka’s new president is promising a brutal crackdown on “fascist” protestors, who he claims represent only a small minority of the population. (Sound familiar?)
One can almost imagine the elites shifting nervously as they watch the news: The natives are getting restless.
Many pundits are prone to lumping these disparate protests into a single, anti-elite backlash. That, of course, would be to oversimplify the situation (and plenty of folks are doing this on Twitter). The Canadian protestors were condemning vaccine mandates and the demonization of the unvaccinated by Justin Trudeau for electoral purposes, while the Dutch and Sri Lankan revolts were about agricultural policy, although they obviously differ in the particulars. For that matter, many conservatives and traditionalists disagree—sometimes vehemently—on the ethics and effects of factory farming.
But there are definite commonalities here. N.S. Lyons, the analyst who runs an essential Substack titled The Upheaval, told me that the parallels between the protests are striking, “especially in that they serve to highlight that the defining global political divide now really does seem to be between ‘Physicals’ and ‘Virtuals’ (from whom the elites are drawn), as I wrote about with the truckers. The Physicals are clearly increasingly frustrated with the Virtuals’ disconnection with reality, and the impact it is having on economies, food production, inflation, etc.—the causes and consequences of which the Virtuals do not understand.”
The policies that have provoked these protests differ, but there is a common conviction driving the backlash: the elites imposing these agendas do not and will not suffer the consequences of their own policies. That is why highlighting the hypocrisy of jet-setting celebrities and politicians resonates—because it is such a succinct encapsulation of the fact that those flying on private jets between climate conferences and homes with carbon footprints the size of entire suburban neighborhoods are advocating the imposition of policies that will never constrict, constrain, or even inconvenience them in the slightest. The rules they are calling for are rules for the little people, not themselves—and the function of their advocacy is virtue signalling to other members of their class.
In calling for new restrictions on the lives and livelihoods of people everywhere, are the elites prepared to give up their private jets? Their short-haul flights to the Hamptons or Heathrow or Martha’s Vineyard? As ordinary citizens struggle with carbon taxes and many of modern life’s luxuries become available only to the super-wealthy, would the elites countenance, for example, legislation that limits people to a mere three or four residences? Of course not. The rules cannot touch the ruling class, and the elites have enough money and mobility to carry on precisely as they please and to party as if the world isn’t warming. Those who must live beneath rather than above their policies can eat bugs, get robbed at the pump, and pay through the nose at the grocery store.
In fact, the world’s wealthiest 1%—those lecturing the masses about how our lives must change to end climate change—emit around 70 times more carbon than the bottom 50%. If we were serious about addressing carbon footprints, the evidence indicates that we would start with corporations, celebrities, and the super-wealthy. As Bloomberg pointed out, the “single-most polluting asset, a superyacht, saw a 77% surge in sales last year. An 11-minute ride to space, like the one taken by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, is responsible for more carbon per passenger than the lifetime emissions of any one of the world’s poorest billion people, according to WIL.” It would be awkward to bring up superyachts at a climate conference, of course—that’s where the afterparty is.
Those private flights add up too. Bloomberg noted that one-tenth of all flights leaving France in 2019 were private planes, and that in “just four hours, those individually-owned planes generate as much carbon dioxide as an average person in the European Union emits all year. Four-fifths of the people on the planet never get on an airplane in their entire lifetime, according to market analysis by Boeing.” In response to upstart online sleuths highlighting their hypocrisy, billionaires and Hollywood celebrities called for an end to public plane tracking. Restrictions are for farm tractors, not Learjets.
These people do not care. And why should they? Most are exclusively loyal to their own class and believe their wealth will cushion them if the scorched-earth policies of their mega-corporations destabilize our societies.
For evidence of that, read Evan Osnos’ bracing 2017 New Yorker essay “Doomsday Prep for the Super-Rich,” in which Osnos describes the backup plans of the American elites. Steve Huffman, the 38-year-old co-founder and CEO. of Reddit (valued at $600 million), got laser eye surgery so he would be better prepared for potential social collapse. He is concerned about “the temporary collapse of our government and structures,” and thus has “a couple of motorcycles” as well as “a bunch of guns and ammo” on hand. One former Facebook product manager has an entire island in the Pacific Northwest outfitted with generators, solar panels, and everything else he might need for when “society loses a healthy founding myth” and “descends into chaos.” According to Osnos, these sorts of preparations are the norm rather than the exception.
One way to determine if people mean what they say is to examine whether they take those principles seriously. When it comes to imposing job-killing and unnecessary mandates on once ‘essential’ workers or levying carbon taxes on the middle class or slowly strangling farmers, the elites are more than happy to be warriors for all the trendy causes. But when it comes to, you know, actually limiting their own carbon footprint? Nah. They live by their own standards—even socialist Bernie Sanders has three homes. Those globalist conferences that celebrities and world leaders flock to in their jets and yachts and helicopters? Those are for folks like Prince Harry, Justin Trudeau, and Leonardo di Caprio to figure out what new ideas they want to force on the rest of us.
In his recent book Ship of Fools: How a Selfish Ruling Class Is Bringing America to the Brink of Revolution, Tucker Carlson noted that nations can survive almost anything—except for leaders who despise the people they rule. People like truckers and frontline workers who don’t want to get vaccinated, or people like farmers who are struggling to make it after spending years trying to outfit their farms to conform to ever-changing green rules. When those people begin to feel the contempt of a ruling class that cares more for backslaps at Davos and the G7 Summit than for the interests of the common man, they start to get angry. And when that happens, we begin to see what we’re seeing now. Sometimes it’s just rigs parked in front of Parliament. But sometimes it’s protestors swimming in the pool at the presidential palace.
Because the truth is—we’re not in this together.
Jonathon Van Maren has written for First Things, National Review, The American Conservative, and is a contributing editor to The European Conservative. His latest book is Prairie Lion: The Life & Times of Ted Byfield.