Eli­tists fail by think­ing they are better

Toronto Star - - OPINION - Rick Sa­lutin

Last year’s memo from vot­ers has fi­nally started to sink in among the bright-eyed smar­ties who run things, or as­pire to. The mes­sage? We don’t like you or trust you. Maybe we don’t need you.

Here’s Camp­bell Clark in the Globe ex­plain­ing that Trudeau Lib­er­als “can’t af­ford to be viewed as a party of priv­i­lege.”

And here’s Lawrence Martin, also in the Globe, on U.S. Democrats: they must “shed the elit­ist im­age and ex­pand their ap­peal to . . . low-ed­u­cated white folk. Mr. Trump draws on the emo­tional in­ten­sity of the rab­ble. He’s un­in­formed . . .”

You couldn’t find a more elit­ist jour­nal­is­tic ren­der­ing of the need to shun elitism.

The Lib­er­als, to their credit, seem to know this. It’s why they want to be the party of the peo­ple or, as they call it, the mid­dle class. But then, why do they have such trou­ble get­ting there? It’s fascinating, even touch­ing, to watch them flail and fail. Why not just de­nounce those elites and sep­a­rate your­selves from them, as Trump did. As Bernie San­ders did, or Jeremy Cor­byn.

Maybe it’s not so easy when you gen­uinely think you are priv­i­leged — not in the sense of moneyed, though some are; but of be­ing wor­thy and mer­i­to­cratic. That’s how Thomas Frank de­scribes U.S. Democrats’ flat­ter­ing self-im­age: smarter, more ed­u­cated, more com­pas­sion­ate even — thus best qual­i­fied to run things. Their role mod­els? Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, War­ren Buf­fett.

The speedy short­cut to not be­ing “viewed” as priv­i­leged would be not be­ing cap­ti­vated by your own elite sta­tus: know­ing it’s less the re­sult of merit than of priv­i­lege it­self (via fam­ily and other ad­van­tages, like race), plus luck.

But that would mean down­grad­ing your self-es­teem, which is a lot to ask. It’s hard not to be elit­ist when you know you’re better than ev­ery­one else.

What are the signs of in­grained elitism? There’s the odi­ous term, smart guys, for those you love as­so­ci­at­ing with and, by ex­ten­sion, your­self. Obama used it for Buf­fett, et al.

I’m not sure why it en­rages me. Maybe it’s the im­plied de­motic. “Hey, we’re just guys, like you dum­mies on the out­side, ex­cept we’re smart and you’re not. So let us drive.”

Joe Bi­den is im­plied de­motic, since he goes by “Joe,” though he’s loy­ally served wealth and power for­ever. Hil­lary tries for or­di­nary-guy­ness but the near­est she gets is drop­ping her g’s when she re­mem­bers to. She dotes on Henry Kissinger, a war crim­i­nal. He talks good, it’s true, but so did the huck­ster at the Ex who I bought a use­less kitchen de­vice from when I was 10 be­cause of his spiel. That doesn’t make Hil­lary smart, it makes her clue­less.

An­other in­di­ca­tor is the no­tion that wor­thi­ness is re­lated to ed­u­ca­tion, since ev­ery­one knows Trump sup­port­ers are un­e­d­u­cated. (False, ac­tu­ally.) I’m all for good pub­lic schools but an ed­u­ca­tion makes you ed­u­cated, not smart — i.e., able to think clearly and in­ci­sively. That comes from some­where else.

Harold In­nis said that when there was no sys­tem of ed­u­ca­tion in Eng­land — late 1700s to early 1800s — more of the poor rose to “dis­tinc­tion” than at any other time. Ko­heleth (in the Bi­ble) learned one thing from read­ing many books: that there’s no end of them and they make you vain, not wise, since “all is van­ity.”

An­other sign of in­grained elitism is con­stantly telling Cana­di­ans what they think, feel or want. I ut­terly fail to com­pre­hend the ap­peal of this trope. This week Tory leader An­drew Scheer said: “What drives Cana­di­ans crazy is when they think . . .” NDP leader Singh said: “The re­al­ity is Cana­di­ans are not sat­is­fied. Cana­di­ans ex­pect . . .”

Why not just de­scribe what you think your­self and let Cana­di­ans de­cide how they roll on those things. Even better, ask them! And not just on a “lis­ten­ing tour,” as if it’s a spe­cial reg­i­men you go on, like a kelp diet.

OK, but if you don’t think you’re smarter than oth­ers, or wiser, more com­pas­sion­ate and ca­pa­ble, why would you run for of­fice at all? Good ques­tion. Maybe that’s why the an­cient Greeks had democ­racy but not elec­tions. Poli­cies were de­ter­mined through dis­cus­sion in mass assem­blies of cit­i­zens. There were of­fi­cials but they were se­lected by lot, not votes. I’m just say­ing.

It meant that self-sat­is­fied eli­tists weren’t tempted to run for pub­lic of­fice. Not that such a thing is in­evitable with our sys­tem, but it’s hardly dis­cour­aged. Rick Sa­lutin’s col­umn ap­pears Fri­day.

An­other sign of in­grained elitism is con­stantly telling Cana­di­ans what they think, feel or want

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