Radical media, politics and culture.

Peggy Noonan, "The Wheels Are Off the Trolley"

"A Separate Peace:

America Is In Trouble,
and Our Elites Are Merely Resigned"

Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal

Peggy Noonan is a former speechwrtier for George H. W. Bush.

It is not so hard and can be a pleasure to tell people what you see.
harder to speak of what you *think* you see, what you think is going on
can't prove or defend with data or numbers. That can get tricky. It
hunches. But here goes.

I think there is an unspoken subtext in our national political culture
now. In fact I think it's a subtext to our society. I think that a lot
people are carrying around in their heads, unarticulated and even in
cases unnoticed, a sense that the wheels are coming off the trolley and
trolley off the tracks. That in some deep and fundamental way things
broken down and can't be fixed, or won't be fixed any time soon. That
pollsters are preoccupied with "right track" and "wrong track" but
missing the
number of people who think the answer to "How are things going in
America?" is
"Off the tracks and hurtling forward, toward an unknown destination."

I'm not talking about "Plamegate." As I write no indictments have come
I'm not talking about "Miers." I mean . . . the whole ball of wax.
Everything. Cloning, nuts with nukes, epidemics; the growing knowledge
there's no such thing as homeland security; the fact that we're leaving
kids with a bill no one can pay. A sense of unreality in our courts so
that they think they can seize grandma's house to build a strip mall;
media institutions imploding -- the spectacle of a great American
the *New York Times*, hurtling off its own tracks, as did CBS. The fear
parents that their children will wind up disturbed, and their souls
imperiled, by the popular culture in which we are raising them.
Senators who
seem owned by someone, actually owned, by an interest group or a
entity. Great churches that have lost all sense of mission, and all
authority. Do you have confidence in the CIA? The FBI? I didn't think
so.But this recounting doesn't quite get me to what I mean. I mean I
there's a general and amorphous sense that things are broken and tough
is coming.

A few weeks ago I was chatting with friends about the sheer number of
parents now buy for teenage girls — bags and earrings and shoes. When
I was
young we didn't wear earrings, but if we had, everyone would have had a
or two. I know a 12-year-old with dozens of pairs. They're thrown all
her desk and bureau. She's not rich, and they're inexpensive, but her
buy her more when she wants them. Someone said, "It's affluence," and
else nodded, but I said, "Yeah, but it's also the fear parents have that
at the end of something, and they want their kids to have good memories.

They're buying them good memories, in this case the joy a kid feels
right down
to her stomach when the earrings are taken out of the case."

This, as you can imagine, stopped the flow of conversation for a moment.
it resumed, as delightful and free flowing as ever. Human beings are
resilient. Or at least my friends are, and have to be.

Let me veer back to the president. One of the reasons some of us have
discomfort regarding President Bush's leadership the past year or so is
he makes more than the usual number of decisions that seem to be looking
trouble. He makes startling choices, as in the Miers case. But you
have to look for trouble in life, it will find you, especially when
president. It knows your address. A White House is a castle surrounded
by a
moat, and the moat is called trouble, and the rain will come and the
moat will
rise. You should buy some boots, do your work, hope for the best.

If I am right that trolley thoughts are out there, and even prevalent,
how are
people dealing with it on a daily basis?

I think those who haven't noticed we're living in a troubling time
continue to
operate each day with classic and constitutional American optimism
intact. I
think some of those who have a sense we're in trouble are going through
motions, dealing with their own daily challenges.

And some — well, I will mention and end with America's elites. Our
debate about elites has had to do with whether opposition to Harriet
Miers is
elitist, but I don't think that's our elites' problem.

This is. Our elites, our educated and successful professionals, are the
who are supposed to dig us out and lead us. I refer specifically to the
elites of journalism and politics, the elites of the Hill and at Foggy
and the agencies, the elites of our state capitals, the rich and
and successful of Washington, and elsewhere. I have a nagging sense,
think I have accurately observed, that many of these people have made a
separate peace. That they're living their lives and taking their
and pursuing their agendas; that they're going forward each day with the

knowledge, which they hold more securely and with greater reason than
nonelites, that the wheels are off the trolley and the trolley's off the

tracks, and with a conviction, a certainty, that there is nothing they
can do
about it.

I suspect that history, including great historical novelists of the
will look back and see that many of our elites simply decided to enjoy
lives while they waited for the next chapter of trouble. And that they
consciously, or unconsciously, took grim comfort in this thought: I got
mine. Which is what the separate peace comes down to, "I got mine, you
get yours."

You're a lobbyist or a senator or a cabinet chief, you're an editor at a
or a green-room schmoozer, you're a doctor or lawyer or Indian chief,
you're making your life a little fortress. That's what I think a lot of
elites are up to.

Not all of course. There are a lot of people — I know them and so do
you —
trying to do work that helps, that will turn it around, that can make it

better, that can save lives. They're trying to keep the boat afloat.
Or, I
should say, get the trolley back on the tracks.

That's what I think is going on with our elites. There are two groups.
has made a separate peace, and one is trying to keep the boat afloat. I

suspect those in the latter group privately, in a place so private they
even express it to themselves, wonder if they'll go down with the ship.
into bad territory with the trolley.

[Ms. Noonan is a contributing editor of The Wall Street Journal and
author of
John Paul the Great: Remembering a Spiritual Father.]