Discover more from The Globoscope (Carl Raschke)
David Brooks may have a point that we, the educated classes, ARE "the bad guys"
And that may indeed be the most dangerous threat to democracy
Brooks set forth his untimely musings in the immediate aftermath of Donald Trump’s third indictment while answering his own provocative question with an answer most likely to enrage most Times readers – “well, maybe we are [the bad guys].”
The “we” Brooks was referencing was of course America’s ruling cultural and educated elites, the “meritocracy,” whom noted Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel excoriates in his 2020 book The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good?
Sandel focused largely on the current hot-button issue of how wealth ensures admission to elite universities, which in turn cements the generational transfer of wealth in what is increasingly perceived by those on the outside as an increasingly unequal American economic caste system.
Brooks, however, zeroes in on the conceits and self-delusions of what the business economist Peter Drucker several decades ago christened the “knowledge classes”, who currently prevail among the Democrats, the party in power.
“The educated class,” Brooks writes, “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.”
Brooks stressed that cultural and economic dominance now coincide. “Like all elites, we use language and mores as tools to recognize one another and exclude others”. As a consequence, he says, “it’s easy to understand why people in less-educated classes would conclude that they are under economic, political, cultural and moral assault — and why they’ve rallied around Trump as their best warrior against the educated class.”
Brooks’ essay elicited mostly yawns and occasional tut-tut’s from the mainstream media. The only serious rebuttal could be found in the predictably left-wing online magazine Slate, which basically used the very same arguments that Brooks in his opinion piece deemed standard issue elite narrative anyway.
Likewise, my own 2020 book, which makes the case even more forcefully than Brooks with far more cerebral and theoretical firepower, was received largely by my own academic peers with a somewhat indulgent nod and a wink.
We are not alone. Stronger critiques of the ruling “progressive neoliberal” elites have been composed in the past five years from leading international academics such as Nancy Fraser, Patrick Deneen, Christophe Guilluy, Luc Boltansky, Eve Chiapello, Jean-Claude Michéa, and of course Sandel.
Given the intensity of their outrage against the hypocrisy and fraudulence of what I call the “hegemony” of the system which Brooks calls out, one would expect some kind of passionate pushback from the doyens and defenders of elite privilege, but the routine response is, well – crickets!
One reason perhaps for this well-nigh ubiquitous lack of response is that those who commandeer the narratives of elite culture are so smug, self-absorbed, and sure of their own impregnable ideological enthronement that calling attention to a few rare dissenting voices might induce others to speak out about the unspeakable – not merely that the emperor has no clothes, but is depraved in his very soul.
The self-referential circle of sanctimonious discourse that both guarantees privilege and taunts the less privileged can be seen, according to American film blogger Sasha Stone, in the elite media’s and social media’s ongoing cork-popping, froth-flowing merriment over the multiple indictments of Trump, all the while derisively chanting “nothing to see here” with regard to the Congressional Republican revelations of the Biden family’s appalling international grift and the stonewalling of the Department of Justice.
Stone writes that “the election of Trump was never allowed in their country.” The elites “would have done anything to keep him out of power. They protested violently, they negotiated with electors, they blamed Putin for Russian interference then they set about removing Trump from power from Day One.”
The institutionalization of the contempt of the knowledge class for the working class began with Obama’s Presidential campaign in 2008, as a number of writers have recently observed, with the former’s famous “God and guns” remark. Stone characterizes this contempt in a fashion similar to that of the ancien régime under Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. “You are invited to stand numbly from the sidelines, maybe buy a ticket to a rodeo once in a while, pay your taxes then sit down and shut up.”
As a highly credential member of the “knowledge class” (yes, I’m a long-tenured university professor who received his PhD from Harvard, even though I grew up in a middle class family), I believe I know my peers well enough to judge whether Stone’s characterization is in fact a crude caricature. Sadly, I have to say, it’s not.
Just a few months ago when Jack Smith’s Trump-indictment machine had not yet gone full throttle, I was having a casual conversation at a social event with one of my academic colleague’s significant other. In the midst of a desultory discussion regarding random and sundry topics he asked me the Leninesque question “what is to be done?” regarding the real possibility Trump might be elected in 2024.
At the time Trump did not have nearly the electoral surge the polls are presently showing, so I said it wasn’t clear he would even be the nominee. But my interlocutor made it clear that Trump had to be indicted no matter what the pretext or the collateral damage, even after I voiced the outrageous (to them) view that putting the former President on jail on trumped-up charges (pun intended) would have dangerous consequences for the country.
Those concerns did not seem to matter at all to my colleague’s partner. As far as they were concerned, “liberal democracy”, as they understood the concept, demanded extraordinary - and even illiberal – methods to crush the supposedly “illiberal” threat from half the American electorate who were not really smart enough to have a any kind of say equal to that of college professors.
Maybe Stone has a point. For all the yammering among progressive neoliberal commentators about Trumpism and the populist threat to “democracy” it turns out that democracy in this particular world picture isn’t, and shouldn’t be, really for the demos (even though the Latin populus in “populism” means exactly the same thing). As British commentator Brendan O’Neil puts it, the elite attitude is “that rule by the people is fine, but rule by dumb people, by the uninformed…is another thing entirely”.
One common motif regurgitated frequently in elite media is that Trump supporters and Trump sympathizers are behaving like brainwashed cult members. The “cult” meme has been repeated routinely by Hillary Clinton and other top Democrats, and not infrequently given a broad-brush application to the Republican Party as a whole.
However, Stone counters that it is the knowledge class that is really the cult. With their obsession over making sure it is impossible for Trump to win, even if he is currently tied (post most recent indictment) with Biden at the pools, the country right now, she argues, is already in “the hands of a cult, and the intellectuals can’t get us out of it”.
One of distinguishing marks of the Trump cult, according to the preferred story line, is the belief that even if Trump didn’t actually win the 2020 election, Biden’s paper-thin margins of victory at the eleventh hour in key swing states were tipped by electoral interference.
Aside from the fact that the Durham report and the now exposed phony “consensus” of 50 prominent intelligence that the Hunter Biden laptop story was nothing more than “Russian disinformation” might make doubts about a clean election seem to a rational observer just a teeny weeny bit plausible, one has to wonder if a certain kind of cult-like idée fixe might also have seized the addled minds of anti-Trump addicts.
As one should recall, in 2018 the notion that Trump aided by the Russians “stole” the election from Clinton was not at all considered conspiratorial. As the New Yorker magazine complained loudly at the time, “the House and the Senate, led by Republicans, have been too stymied by partisanship to address the ultimate question of whether Trump’s victory was legitimate”.
As recent as a year ago a Rasmussen poll found that 72 percent of Democrats still maintained that “the 2016 election outcome was changed by Russian interference. And the beat goes on.
There indeed is a genuine threat to democracy when half the country is passionately persuaded that not only are the outcomes of elections won narrowly by the other side suspect, but the law itself comes down to whatever partisan purpose you pitch it toward. One interesting example is a set of findings from a recent CBS poll concerning the Trump indictments.
While over half of those polled (57%) agreed that the indictments and investigations of Trump are aimed at “upholding the rule of law,” a slightly larger majority (59%) clung to the proposition that the same indictments and investigations had the main objective of “trying to stop” the Trump campaign for President.
In other words, an indeterminate segment of the electorate appeared to have adopted the view, whether witting or unwittingly, that democracy indeed requires respect for law, but using the law to undermine democracy is itself lawful if it advantages one side or other.
Whether Trump is guilty of the numerous crimes with which he is now charged by different state actors, or whether the Bidens have become in reality a “crime family” (as Republicans accuse them) of leveraging political power and influence on an international scale to enrich themselves illicitly, while their own justice department sedulously ignores such outrages, is not the ultimate issue today. That view may be counterintuitive, but it pales in comparison to the moral myopia infecting a democratic polity that cannot distinguish partisanship from probity.
“The most sacred of the duties of a government [is] to do equal and impartial justice to all its citizens," Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1816. But when half the country is convinced the other half is “above the law”, an inevitable and speedy historical reckoning is inevitable.
As moral philosophers from Augustine to Alasdair Macintyre have argued, it is the duty of what we call the “knowledge class” to uphold the principles, even if challenges their own prejudices, , of “justice”.
As the great twentieth century philosopher John Rawls put it, justice is “fairness”. Indeed, the social compact itself, according to Rawls, “is understood as a purely hypothetical situation characterized so as to lead to a certain conception of justice? Among the essential features of this situation is that no one knows his place in society, his class position or social status.”
Brooks concludes his column with a quote from the late American sociologist E. Digby Baltzell: “history is a graveyard of classes which have preferred caste privileges to leadership.” But Brooks adds ominously: “that is the destiny our class is now flirting with.”
One is also reminded of the famous quotation inscribed on the Thomas Jefferson memorial, originally insinuating the hypocrisy of the founders over slavery, but having an even broader application today. “I tremble for my country,” Jefferson wrote, “when I reflect that God is just”.