Charles Murray explains how many of us are insulated from working class America.

I found his bubble quiz to be difficult to answer. I grew up in a pseudo-bubble. My parents were educators but not at the college level. Perhaps the mere fact that I found the bubble quiz difficult to take speaks volumes.

Northern Virginia is unique in itself and probably gives a false negative on bubble-dom.


Virginia looks like a red state from a distance.  It’s obvious Virginia would have gone for Trump if Northern Virginia counties had not kicked in late.  Prince William, Fairfax and Loudoun saved the day for Clinton.

Do you believe Northern Virginia insulates us from the rest of the country?


26 Thoughts to “Making sense of the Trump victory”

  1. NorthofNokesville

    I scored a 28 – A first-generation upper-middle-class person with middle-class parents. Typical: 33.

    About right, lots of overlap, though.

    I do think NoVa is a bubble of sorts. In most other professional cities, there’s an assumed level of “liberalness” writ-large. That’s a bubble on its own, because you don’t run across many people who challenge the status quo. They’re there, but quiet. In DC, the closer you get to the city the more liberal, but there’s an “intensity” bubble, too. Government is our major industry, with the derivative policy, lobbying, associations, law, etc, employing tons of people. No other professional metro is a company town like we are (NYC has finance, LA entertainment, SF has tech, to be sure).

    In many ways, PWC feels like the edge of the bubble. Local issues drive interest and intensity, there are large “non-managerial” chunks of population, and gentrification so far has not trickled down into retail and cultural institutions, such as they are.

    FWIW, Murray is a thinker worth reading for folks on the left. Folks didn’t like his Bell Curve because it seemed to have un-PC implications, but the forces he described were pretty dead-on accurate (assortive mating, talent clustering, etc). You could quibble with details, but miss his overall point, and be worse off for it. I feel the same way about Stewart Brand for folks on the right – he’s no raving ideologue, engage.

    1. I will check out Stewart Brand.

      I do think PWC is the edge of the bubble. 25 years ago I am not even sure it really was in the bubble. It used to be just where people lived.

      I just consider myself middle class and I am not even sure what that means any more. I certainly don’t think I live an upper middle class life style. However, I am repelled by some of what I hear and see on TV.

      I am trying to figure out how much money has to do with creating the bubble. I certainly didn’t identify with Hillbilly elegy.

      My parents left Charlottesville and moved down to the Northern Neck. I couldn’t identify with that either. My little brothers both got to hell out of there as fast as possible.

      It’s all very confounding.

      1. NorthofNokesville


        It is confusing, particularly if you’ve transitioned classes, or come from an intellectual or alt-class family. And PWC has a lot of transitioners, and while not many (any?) real intellectuals, there are some pockets of alt-class (middle/upper middle class folks living intentionally close to nature, or “gentleman farmer” types). Creates some mixing not common in other places.

        Money I think is part of it but not the whole of it. I’ve seen genuinely rich people have less of a bubble than UMC. I don’t think it’s a linear thing, ie, more money thicker bubble simply. It’s tied up in that because the bubble is as much social as anything.

        Maybe with economics, it’s range. Thinking about venues in life, how many orders of magnitude of wealth do we engage across.

        For me:

        Professional: three OOM (10^7 – 10^4, ie $10M – $10K net worth)
        Social: two (10^7 – 10^5)
        Family: six (10^6 – 0)
        Church: six (10^6 – 0)

        Could do same for race, religion, politics, etc.

      2. I don’t think my social status has changed. There is no lane changing, as it were. Marriage also didnt lane change me. Both my husband and I had college educated parents. However, none of them would be considered upper middle class, at least financially or what we used to consider the middle class. I think I have a skewed view of what middle class really was, some of it based on where I grew up. Charlottesville had no manufacturing so the concept of factories etc just wasn’t in the mix. My mother came from that town. Her father was a civil engineer and ended up being City Manager. My father came down from New Jersey, went to the University and lettered in football, basketball and baseball. I guess his lack of social status was overcome by being big man on campus.

        They weren’t wealthy at all but they were comfortable during the depression, probably because the area wasn’t hit particularly hard. My parents were educators. They obviously weren’t wealthy but the were comfortable enough.

        I will confess that my mother once said to me (as an adult) that I had certainly spent a lot of time trying to be “poor white trash.” I guess I had done something she considered unacceptable, or a series of things.

        Having typed all that, you are absolutely right. It wasn’t money. In my case, it was about family status in the south. I also think, from what my mother told me when asking what class the old family was, that I come from gentleman farmers but not plantation class. I don’t think they were afraid to get their hands dirty though.

      3. I am being dense about your range. Please provide more explanation.

        I agree about genuinely rich people having less of a bubble. Jimmy Carter springs to mind.
        I think Northern Virginia really does insulate us from seeing what I would probably call generational poverty. I saw it as a kid but I was also protected from it as a kid also. Not sure why.

      4. NorthofNokesville


        It’s just a rough approximation of the economic range of folks I encounter. In typical business settings, I know people who are in the 10^7 range ($10-99M net worth, rare, but there), and I know people starting out where their net worth is likely to be low $10K’s, ie, young unmarried professionals in individual contributor roles. Socially the band is narrower, largely because of age and kids… we tend to hang out with people our age, and if you have kids, that’s a huge anchor. Family is broad. Few single-digit millionaires (not rare between 401K, pensions, and real estate), but also some who live paycheck to paycheck or are on assistance, with close to $0 net worth. Church is same.

      5. Ah ok. Gotcha. Money range–oh yes. I have a huge range there. Family, I have a huge range also. My stepson is extremely wealthy. Everyone else is normal. Socially, my band is wide also because I don’t have kids who are parent dependent. My kids are grown with their own families.

        I am unchurched and have been for many years, once the kids were grown so I can’t address that. Most of the people I know are either unchurched, jewish, or liberal christian. When I say KNOW I mean people I would consider my circle of friends. Most. Not all. I have several evangelical friends. We generally don’t talk about it. I am comfortable in my religious skin as are they. (read: set in our ways)

        Out of all these people, the person I have the most respect for is my now deceased mother in law. I never liked the woman but I did respect her. Her own mother was an Irish immigrant who was a seamstress. Her husband died of the influenza on 1918 or thereabouts. He was a German immigrant. My mother in law grew up as the youngest of 4 daughters. She worked hard in school and made good grades. She grew up in Northampton, MA where Smith College is. She ended up going to Smith as a townie. She kept close friends from college until the day she died. She never allowed her own lack of economic status to stand in her way. How many of us could do that? I am sure I wouldn’t have had the courage to do all that she did. I always considered her remarkable. She is sort of a benchmark in my life. She came along in the days when being an Irish immigrant wasn’t all that cool either. Probably the German parentage didnt help much either considering WWI. Her last name was Fischer so no hiding the German.

        Smith College–one of the 7 sister schools. Definitely Ivy League in status. Not bad for a little Irish girl. How on earth does that fit into a bubble paradigm? On the other hand, how does an athletic boy from Belleville, NJ become BMOC at one of the south’s most prestigious universities? He wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth either but he wasn’t first generation immigrant. (Maybe 2nd or 3rd in a couple of cases).

        My mother, on the other hand, has a family history that goes back to the 1700’s in Virginia. She wasn’t FFV but darn close to it. My father in law could trace his ancestry back to the damn Mayflower. He wasn’t wealthy either but the lineage was there.

        The more I type on this subject the more I am convinced money has very little to do with it. Maybe its an east coast phenomena.

        One more thing, when I look at all the cousins who are descended from my great grandfather, nearly all of us are at least leaning liberal. I might be one of the more conservative even. How in the hell did that happen? We are descended from slave holders. None of it makes any sense. There might be one conservative cousin. He grew up in the Cleveland area. oye Vey!

      6. NorthofNokesville


        Your story shows how hard it is to nail down one explanation for almost anything. The argument here may be less for lineage and more for mixing. Your ancestors did that despite usual barriers.

        I think I have you beat on religious “breadth”… I’m a practicing RC, raised that way, but I went through un-churched and Anglican phases. Friends run the spectrum, both in type and degree of religiosity (example: a cultural Jew who is otherwise atheist is different in both type and intensity from a convert to Presbyterianism who has no cultural reason to join). I also admit I find the topic fascinating, and I am curious to no end about the “what” and “why” of beliefs. My kids’ godparents hail from three continents. One of my favorite memories is of a mixed-denomination wedding in Ireland. Bring it on.

        Looking back, I can’t get to the Mayflower, but I can get pre-Revolution in a direct line, back to Northern Ireland. No one in the family owned slaves (not a mountain/frontier thing in general), and until my dad married a German, all were Celtic (Scottish or Irish).

        Probably the biggest “diversity” drivers for me are work and school. Undergrad at big state school, lived in multicultural program, active on campus, etc. Grad school had global student body, faculty, alumni base. First post undergrad employer was non-profit, but with global program reach. First post grad school was global MNC, Fortune 20, with diverse workforce, clients, and global reach. Hit six continents.

        Travel also does it. You see the commonalities in people, places, cultures and learn to appreciate the differences. You also see that in most interactions, a few simple rules suffice to drive good behavior.

      7. I am sure my mother’s people were not pleased. I mean for God’s sake, my father was a Yankee in their eyes. I can tell you though, no one tried harder to fit in and be an adopted Virginian than that man.

        The religious breadth, don’t count your chickens on that one. My father was raised Catholic. He left the church as soon as he hit UVA if not before. I was raised Presbyterian (I got dropped off at church). I married a Catholic and we both were practicing Episcopalians for a while. Kids were both Christened in the Episcopalian Church. I am unchurched and so is he. I confess to some Pagan interests although not practicing. My husband also came from a mixed marriage but his Mother didn’t leave the church. The bonus there was that Mr. Howler didnt have to go to Catholic school because his father said he paid taxes and the boys would all go to public school. That was part of the great compromise in that home.

        My mother’s side is probably pre-revolutionary. I have heard some were Tories. Gasp. I have also heard there was a horse thief or two in the mix. There are relatives on the Victory monument at Yorktown. I know very little about my father’s people other than the nationalities. English, Irish, Swiss and French. My mother was totally English and maybe Scottish. Who knows.

        I think you have had much more exposure than I have to diversity. My exposure all came through kids. My only travel is the western Hemisphere. Actually lets just say North America.

  2. Steve Thomas

    I scored a 77.

    You ask a great question, Moon. Yes, NoVA is a bubble. Because so many of us work for the Federal Government, for a contractor to the Federal government, and our local economies sooo dependent on the incomes of those above, we are in a bubble, very much out-of-step with the rest of the country. The recession didn’t hurt nearly us nearly as badly as it did elsewhere, and National news IS our local news, so much so that PWC can’t support a real local newspaper. I think this election demonstrates tremendously just how skewed our perceptions can be, when we are exposed to a very narrow range of viewpoints. This is mostly our own faults as we choose those information sources that confirm rather than challenge our own opinions.

    1. What do you think is the biggest contributor to your 77?

      I don’t think I would be more than about a 40 if I lived in Ch-ville rather than here. Ch-ville is sort of insulated also but for different reasons. I was getting ready to say that I thought all college towns in the south are but then I thought about Indiana U in Bloomington. It isn’t that much different than Ch-ville.

      You mention that national news IS our local news. I have been trying to tell a couple friends in the west that for a long time. They simply don’t get it. I really miss not having a local paper, FWIW.

      1. Steve Thomas



        I would say the greatest contributing factors to my 77 score is the fact that I was grew up in a single-parent blue-collar household, in a blue-collar neighborhood, held a blue-collar job (meat-cutter) prior to entering the USMC, the 9 years spent in uniform as an enlisted man prior to earning my commission, and the fact that I am an evangelical christian. Also, I have lived in so many smaller towns.

        Your advising your western friends of the influence of national news on our local news, is 100% correct. I experience this all the time, whether speaking with my family in Boston, or my Marine buddies who live in south Florida. When discussing this or that issue, I always get the “How do you know all this and I don’t? You must watch a lot of news.” They are blown away when I tell them I don’t have cable, or broadcast TV. I don’t get either of the major newspapers WashPo or WashTimes. It’s just that I live in the shadow of DC, and there’s no escaping it. It permeates every aspect of our lives. National issues and policies are local to us.

      2. All politics is local is truly an understatement in our case.

        I remember when PWC and Manassas were seen as the last outpost. You could hear roosters crowing in the morning. I am still not considered the old guard. I wasn’t born here. I guess that is what it would take.

      3. Did you read Hillbilly Elegy? I know Boston ain’t rustbelt Ohio but I would think there would be similarities. My friend from Beckley found it very disturbing. That book prompted my trip to southern West Va.

      4. Steve Thomas


        Never read it, but I’ll check it out.

        The Boston I grew up in was VERY blue-collar. Most of my uncles were firemen, one was a cop, and my grandfather was a letter-carrier who walked his route. My Ma worked in shipping and receiving at an electronics plant. My friends parents worked the same. None was upper-crust or had degrees. Just regular Joe’s and Jane’s. The closest to upper-crust were the Hughes family. Their Dad owned his own Heating-installation/repair (no one had central air). He did quite well and they eventually moved to the other side of town.

        My sister married a good man. Vocational HS grad, who’s worked in auto-body since HS. My sister paid her own way through a 2 year school with a AA in “secretarial/clerical”, and has been an VP’s admin for 30 years. They are doing OK and derive satisfaction from knowing they’ve worked for everything they have. My nieces will go to 4-year schools if they want, but my sister (liberal-independent) says “no bull-shit degrees, and no campus radical crap. Drink your beers on the weekends, but you better be passing your classes, or we’re not paying. I work hard and could use a trip to Aruba every year…so don’t screw up.”

        I delivered newspapers from age 8-14. Had to give half my earnings to my Ma, which was no issue , as I could do what I wanted with the rest. At 15 I got a job as a meat-wrapper (I wrapped the meats after they were cut. At 16, I became an apprentice and could operate saws, and passed my tests at 17. Worked 39 1/2 hours “on the books”, and about 10-15 hours “off”. Made great money for a kid. Left that job when I joined the Marines. My first 2 years in the Corps my “bring home” actually dropped, but since I was housed and fed, I actually made more.

        I’ve always felt if God called me to full-time mission, I would go to Appalachia. I’ve always had a heart for those folks.

        I think my time as an enlisted Marine really exposed me to people from different areas, and different ethnic backgrounds. My buddies were from Flint and Pontiac MI, Pima AZ and Loveland CO, Elleville GA and Walnut Creek NC…and everywhere in-between. Having to compete for acceptance in the commissioning program I entered, paying my own way through college, etc…and owning the Corps “4 more” just for the opportunity I have very little sympathy and patience for some butter-cup snowflake at some Ivy-league school, who’s never held a job, and whose parents are paying for school, telling me to “check my privilege”.

        These kids are weak. They are the product of the “no score soccer/everyone gets a trophy” mentality. The wilt when confronted with any resistance to their viewpoints, and believe anyone who doesn’t see things their way needs to be shouted down, cast out, etc. The problem is, they expect someone else to enforce their wishes, and when they roll out to the real world with some impractical (useless) degree, they will not be ready to face the challenges they will undoubtedly encounter. Throw in the fact that automation will further limit what’s available to them, they will realize they are screwed…and will blame someone else.

        That’s why my daughter is in the school she is in, a core STEM school. That’s why she and I engage in results-oriented activities like archery, and believe it or not, vegetable gardening.

        I remember where I came from, and what it took to get where I am today. I don’t look down on simple, hardworking people, doing the best they can, with what they’ve got. That’s where I came from.

      5. Thank you for sharing.

        I think I was so solidly middle class it was ridiculous. Middle class in that you had what you needed but there wasn’t much luxury. I came from the class where you either got braces or college but not both. There were no piano lessons because we didnt have a piano.

        My parents also told me that if I got involved in any protest crap they would whip me out of school so fast my head would spin. No protesting on their dime.

        I also got kicked in the ass for enlightening my father on something I had learned in college. Seriously.

        One of the maddest I ever got watching TV was seeing the professor of something stupid saying it was their safe zone as they assaulted the photographer. I cheered when I heard she had been fired. I expect better out of the “adults.”

  3. Kelly_3406

    My score for this was a 58. It would have been a much lower score had I not grown up in the rural South and served in the military. I have always had one foot solidly in working-class America and the other in the bubble.

    My high school teammates (basketball and football) were mostly black and in a different socio-economic class. In my high-school yearbook, one of my teammates thanked me for “hanging around the blacks.” I had no idea what he was talking about–I just liked playing sports with the best. It was years later before I grasped the significance of what he was trying to tell me.

    When I was taking this little test, I was surprised to see that my hometown had <15% college graduates. Despite the low number of college graduates in my town, everyone in my high-school classes (mostly AP) went to and graduated from college. I went on to a very prestigious university and multiple graduate degrees, but it never occurred to me that this was an unusual outcome for someone from my region.

    However, I did work in a cotton mill during summers while I was in college, so the motivation to finish my degree was very strong. It was a hard, sweaty, depressing job, working alongside coworkers who were three times my age and absolutely miserable because they did not believe they could do anything else. It was absolutely devastating to the area when the plant closed and re-located (in Malaysia, I believe).

    I served in the military, which is not atypical of high-school graduates in my home town, although I was an officer and had a long career. Many people in my hometown used military service as a way to see the world and experience diverse cultures and people. In that respect, I was no different. I saw what true suffering and poverty is really like overseas, and witnessed truly awful race/religious hatred. These experiences make me snort at the faux outrage that we see on today's college campuses (campii?).

    I now work in a very high-tech business where innovation and creativity are key. My experience in a cotton mill and the military taught that innovation is not limited to people with graduate degrees. Sometimes the best ideas can come from the greenest of Airmen who think differently.

    All this leads me to the concept of the "bubble." There seems to be a prevailing view among professionals and the political class in NoVa/DC that they are the best and brightest in all of America. As a result, the unspoken objective has been to maintain the status quo at all costs, because the best hope for the country's welfare is to keep these same "bright people" in positions of power and trust, working on the important issues of the day. Besides being incredibly self serving, this philosophy was always destined for failure, because it encourages group think, which represses innovation, and creates separation from the rest of America.

    Trump was chosen by the rest of America to shake things up. The wailing and gnashing of teeth following his initial political appointments show that he is doing just that. Get ready for a roller coaster ride over the next four years ….

    1. Thank you for sharing your perspective, Kelly.
      I am still gnashing my teeth. I think it should not go unnoticed that people like me are praying for Mitt Romney to be selected for Secretary of State.

      I still don’t think that many of those who voted for Trump knew what they were doing. That might sound arrogant but its how I feel. I don’t think that many people who aren’t east coast have any real clue what it takes to drive the engine of the United States of America. I don’t think Trump understands the nuts and bolts either.

      I fear the Alt-Right. They don’t have the respect for “others” that they should.

      1. Kelly_3406


        I think a better choice for SecState may be someone who understands the energy sector.

        Innovations in the detection and extraction of oil and gas during the last decade have revolutionalized the energy sector. The US became the #1 oil-producing country in 2015.

        This has huge implications for national security. A vital national security interest has historically been to protect the security of oil-producing countries in the Middle East. Yet Obama presided over the loss of US leadership in the Middle East and the first deployment of Russians troops to the Middle East in 40 years.

        Despite these setbacks, it may not matter. As the US becomes more energy independent, the security of countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait may become less vital to the US. A review of vital national security interests by someone who is not invested in the status quo could result in profound changes to US foreign policy and the National Security Strategy.

        The second implication could be economic. As access to low-cost energy from the US becomes more assured, production and transportation costs should drop, which should lead to strong economic growth and increased manufacturing in the US. This could spur a renaissance in American manufacturing that those left behind so desperately need.

        So market forces do appear to be in place for strong economic growth. A tax break could be just the right catalyst to create business investment and get the economy going.

        Notice that these innovations in the energy sector took place without the benefit of government assistance. In fact, government policy has been downright hostile to the fossil-fuel industry. The people that understand what it takes to drive the engine of the United States had absolutely nothing to do with these positive developments.

      2. Steve Thomas


        “I still don’t think that many of those who voted for Trump knew what they were doing. That might sound arrogant but its how I feel. I don’t think that many people who aren’t east coast have any real clue what it takes to drive the engine of the United States of America. I don’t think Trump understands the nuts and bolts either.

        Yes, that does sound arrogant, and elitist, providing a shinning example of why “common working folk” outside of urban areas totally rejected what the Democrat party was offering. Our outgoing President even put his policies on the ballot, saying numerous times “If you support me, and want to continue what we are doing, then you must vote for Hillary.” I also think that coming in, Trump has way more “nuts and bolts” experience of actually running something, than did our outgoing President in 2008. You don’t develop giant properties all over the world, without knowing how to get things done, in a multitude of places and cultures.

        This is why the Democrat Party has been so reduced down at the state level. Get outside of a heavily urbanized area and people aren’t buying it:

        And initial impressions are that the national Democrats haven’t learned a thing. The riots and the protests. The leading candidates to take over the DNC. The fact that Nancy Pelosi is still the leading contender for House Minority Leader.

        Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that my party is perfectly capable of screwing this up at the national level, hurting the brand down at the state level. I only hope that they follow Trump’s lead.

        I will be very interested in the 2017 state and 2018 mid-terms, here in Virginia. I would like to see if NoVA is permanently in the “Blue” category, since it’s really just one big urban area now.

      3. You pose some good questions. I do admit to being arrogant–in a more global sense.

        I wouldn’t make the mistake of comparing a country to a company. That used to frost me when people tried to compare education to a company. Apples to oranges. Education is a unique institution.

        I can only hope that Trump and his appointees don’t engage us in war or wreck the economy or lower our status in the world.

      4. Steve Thomas

        “I can only hope that Trump and his appointees don’t engage us in war or wreck the economy or lower our status in the world.”

        You must have missed the parts of Trumps foreign policy speeches that invoked cries of “isolationism” and “anti-globalism” amongst all of those “racist” claims.

        I see the US being very judicial in its use-of-force under a Trump Admin. If anything, out global stock has gone up, since Trump was elected. Those friendly nations have been crying for US leadership these last 8 years.

      5. Which friendly nations are you referring to? I haven’t checked out my global stocks lately. All stock as gone up. The stock market hates uncertainty. It doesn’t care much who wins or loses.

  4. El Guapo

    I don’t need to take the quiz to know that I live in a bubble (I took it anyway: Score: 44). The only thing on there was watching Wendy Williams (I have a thing for her). I don’t know anyone who openly and enthusiastically supported Donald Chump. I have some friends who probably voted for him, but they were ashamed to admit it, and their votes were more votes against HRC than for Chump. I had a friend who watched a Republican debate about a year ago. She mentioned that Chump said some things that resonated with her. She’s not a citizen so she didn’t vote anyway. And her husband probably voted for HRC if not for Jill.

    Back in June 2015 after the wall and insults to Mexican immigrants, I told a Mexican friend that Chump had no chance, that he is just a clown, don’t worry about it. Over the months she’s expressed a lot of concern. She said that some people think that the U.S. A. is going to start a war with Mexico (I guess baseless rumors spread in Mexico City too). But they’re very concerned. I told her every step of the way even right before the election that Chump had no chance ninguna oportunidad.

    I still don’t know how anyone can take this guy seriously.

    1. My hispanic friends are all very scared either for themselves or for friends and family.

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