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It’s Hard Out Here For An Elite

David Brooks looks around and wonders why we no longer respect our elites like back in the good old days when they were all rich connected white guys:

[H]ere’s the funny thing. As we’ve made our institutions more meritocratic, their public standing has plummeted. We’ve increased the diversity and talent level of people at the top of society, yet trust in elites has never been lower.


The promise of the meritocracy has not been fulfilled. The talent level is higher, but the reputation is lower.

In his usual obtuse point-missing way, Brooks nibbles around with minor-to-nonsensical explanations like class solidarity, excessive transparency(!), and The Crazy Pace Of Modern Life Today With All Its Twitters And YouTubes And Whatchamacallits, but he completely fails to address the two biggest reasons why no one trusts elites anymore:

1) They’ve earned it. The most powerful people in America have been on a nonstop corruption and fuckup spree that is now impossible to ignore.  The financial elites gamed the system to sack the economy, the political elites bailed them out while stiffing everyone else, and the media elites made excuses or looked the other way.

Throw in serial government incompetence, obstruction and malfeasance that just happens to benefit elected officials’ biggest campaign donors, and it’s not at all surprising that most Americans think their politicians are corporate stooges.

2) Right-wing anti-intellectual demagoguery. Of course, not all elites are intent on destroying the country for their own personal gain.  Many members of the scientific and academic elites have been alarmed by the actions of the political and financial elites – on climate, on the economy, on education, on foreign policy – but in order to neutralize their warnings, conservatives have embarked on a decades-long campaign to discredit intellectuals and experts as effete out-of-touch liberal eggheads, junk-science scam artists, intolerant indoctrinators of the impressionable, and God-hating secular humanists.

The power elites thus gained the latitude to thoroughly discredit themselves, while the intellectual elites who actually know what they’re talking about mostly found themselves shouting into the wind, their vindication forever unnoticed.

Of course, not all professors and scientists are smart, noble Cassandras trying to steer us away from ruin, just as not all CEOs, politicians and pundits are selfish creeps trying to steer us towards it… but it’s a pretty safe way to bet.

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