Monday, September 18, 2023

#261 / A Monument To Elite Self-Satisfaction?


The phrase I am using as a headline is a phrase used by New York Times opinion columnist David Brooks in his column published on August 4, 2023, "What if We're the Bad Guys Here?

What the heck is David Brooks talking about? Brooks uses my headline phrase to describe the "story" that so-called "anti-Trumpers" have told themselves about what is going on in our country today. Specifically, Brooks is trying to explain something that seems puzzling to many; namely, why there is such strong and enduring political support for our much-indicted and greatly-flawed former president. 
Brooks strongly suggests that one of the phrases that I, personally, use quite frequently ("We're all in this together") does not, in fact, accurately describe our contemporary situation at all. I gather Brooks thinks that it might have described our nation once ( and that it ought to describe our nation), but Brooks suggests those whom he calls the "educated class" have now taken all the best spots at the banquet table, and those who are lucky enough to have qualified don't show much concern, if any concern at all, for those who have been left out. What if we (the "educated class") are the "bad guys?"

Those who have been left out, Brooks would say, consider the "educated class," and those members of that class who count as "anti-Trumpers," to be massively and wrongly self-satisfied. Thus, those who have been left out are going to stick with someone whom they believe has stuck up for them - none other than that much-indicted and greatly-flawed former president:

This story begins in the 1960s, when high school grads had to go off to fight in Vietnam but the children of the educated class got college deferments. It continues in the 1970s, when the authorities imposed busing on working-class areas in Boston but not on the upscale communities like Wellesley where they themselves lived.

The ideal that "we’re all in this together" was replaced with the reality that the educated class lives in a world up here and everybody else is forced into a world down there. Members of our class are always publicly speaking out for the marginalized, but somehow we always end up building systems that serve ourselves.

The most important of those systems is the modern meritocracy. We built an entire social order that sorts and excludes people on the basis of the quality that we possess most: academic achievement. Highly educated parents go to elite schools, marry each other, work at high-paying professional jobs and pour enormous resources into our children, who get into the same elite schools, marry each other and pass their exclusive class privileges down from generation to generation.

Brooks doesn't say it, specifically, but I will. Those in the "meritocracy," and those political candidates whom they support, end up thinking that at least half of those who didn't all get the benefits they did are nothing other than a "basket of deplorables." Yes, I am pointing at you, Hillary Clinton!

I do think that saying "we're all in this together" is to say something that is true. We really are "all in this together." Hillary Clinton seems to know it, too. Just consider her 2016 campaign slogan. That's it, shown right above: "Stronger Together." Again, that is absolutely true!

Our political challenge, it seems to me, is to take this truth - that "we are in this together" - and make that truth "real." Operationally real. As Brooks accurately says, it's not operationally real in today's United States.

You can sing a song, if that helps (one of my past blog postings gave out the lyrics), but when we start "making friends," which I have advised is an imperative, we must do so not only for the joy of it, but as a bulwark about the bad times about to descend upon us. We need, quite clearly, to find some friends across the division lines that now define our politics. If we are part of that "meritocracy" that David Brooks is talking about, then we need friends who aren't. Same thing going the other direction. 

We are, truly, "all in this together," and that means we need to expand our friendship circles. 

Once we do? Well, then we had better help our friends!

I am quite serious in saying that this would not only be a "nice thing," or a "nice idea." I am saying that this is what must happen for our nation to survive. 

Big challenges are coming. 

Let's start finding those friends right now!

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