A properly Biden-hating but Trump-critical friend remarked to me lately that “I just don’t know any intelligent, educated people who want to vote for Trump next year.” Well maybe so, but I am reminded of the revealing line from Adlai Stevenson in the 1956 presidential campaign, when an enthusiastic supporter ran up to him and breathlessly exclaimed, “Oh, Governor Stevenson! All educated people are for you!” To which Stevenson responded, “Yes, ma’am, but I need a majority.”
That’s a perfect expression of liberal elitism and disdain toward the broad spectrum of Americans who don’t attend elite universities or live in the trendiest neighborhoods or hold the “correct” views.
Which brings me to David Brooks’s mid-week column in the New York Times that people are still talking about days later, which is a much longer half-life for a column than is typical these days. His column is “What If We’re the Bad Guys Here?“, and the “bad guys” here are not the Deplorables that Times readers and other “enlightened” people blame for blocking all desirable progress, but the Times readership itself. Brooks doesn’t put it that directly, but that’s the clear subtext.
This article is Brooks at his best, though I’ll get to its residual defects in due course:
Let me try another story on you. I ask you to try on a vantage point in which we anti-Trumpers are not the eternal good guys. In fact, we’re the bad guys. . .
When I began my journalism career in Chicago in the 1980s, there were still some old crusty working-class guys around the newsroom. Now we’re not only a college-dominated profession; we’re an elite-college-dominated profession. Only 0.8 percent of college students graduate from the super-elite 12 schools (the Ivy League colleges, plus Stanford, M.I.T., Duke and the University of Chicago). A 2018 study found that more than 50 percent of the staff writers at the beloved New York Times and The Wall Street Journal attended one of the 29 most elite universities in the nation.
Writing in Compact magazine, Michael Lind observes that the upper-middle-class job market looks like a candelabrum: “Those who manage to squeeze through the stem of a few prestigious colleges and universities in their youth can then branch out to fill leadership positions in almost every vocation.”
Or, as Markovits puts it, “elite graduates monopolize the best jobs and at the same time invent new technologies that privilege superskilled workers, making the best jobs better and all other jobs worse.” . . .
Armed with all kinds of economic, cultural and political power, we support policies that help ourselves. Free trade makes the products we buy cheaper, and our jobs are unlikely to be moved to China. Open immigration makes our service staff cheaper, but new, less-educated immigrants aren’t likely to put downward pressure on our wages.
Like all elites, we use language and mores as tools to recognize one another and exclude others. Using words like “problematic,” “cisgender,” “Latinx” and “intersectional” is a sure sign that you’ve got cultural capital coming out of your ears. Meanwhile, members of the less-educated classes have to walk on eggshells because they never know when we’ve changed the usage rules so that something that was sayable five years ago now gets you fired.
We also change the moral norms in ways that suit ourselves, never mind the cost to others. For example, there used to be a norm that discouraged people from having children outside marriage, but that got washed away during our period of cultural dominance, as we eroded norms that seemed judgmental or that might inhibit individual freedom.
There’s a lot more worth taking in from this article, all of it sound observation. Here’s the key paragraph though:
Does this mean that I think the people in my class are vicious and evil? No. Most of us are earnest, kind and public-spirited. But we take for granted and benefit from systems that have become oppressive. Elite institutions have become so politically progressive in part because the people in them want to feel good about themselves as they take part in systems that exclude and reject.
Here David proves unable to break from his class. The people in his class are vicious and evil. Full stop. We can see already a critical mass of elitists who will censor and even enforce lockdowns by force if the law didn’t stand in their way even a little bit. Elite institutions are a large part of the cause of this; they deserve to be destroyed right down to their foundations. The inherent presumption of “progressivism” is that their “expertise,” based on infallible “science,” can guide us to a better future. As Oakeshott warned, “the conjunction of dreaming and ruling generates tyranny.” Good luck getting the Harvard faculty—or the New York Times editorial page—to ponder this problem for a nanosecond. This is why the “baddies” are so bad (hat tip to Mitchell & Webb below). Until that presumption is overturned, nothing will meaningfully change. Does Harvard realize that a majority of the nation would celebrate if the entire campus burned to the ground?
Brooks asks as the end of his column:
We can condemn the Trumpian populists until the cows come home, but the real question is: When will we stop behaving in ways that make Trumpism inevitable?
Short and obvious answer: Never. Here’s a serious suggestion for Brooks (whom I know and like personally): Quit your job at the Times editorial page, move back to Chicago, and report on the day-to-day crime beat for a Chicago newspaper.
Chaser—Other have pointed to the Mitchell and Webb sketch, and we might as well too, because it fits the smug New York Times set so well: