Daniel Drezner's latest in the Washington Post is uncommonly good. It makes a useful distinction between Old Money type elites – Kennedys, Bushes, Astors, Rockefellers, etc. – who recognized their own elite status. This is important in the United States since we don't formally christen Old Money elites in the way that, for example, the UK system of titles does. Our informality allows anyone to either claim or deny elite status, regardless of whether that claim has any merit. Neither Drezner (nor I) argue that this makes Bushes good people, but merely that they are unwilling or unable to pretend that they are not the elite dynasty they are.

More often, though, we have ultra-elites going to extremes to deny that they are elites. We all do this to some extent – everyone clinging to and showering one another with tales of our middle- or working-class identification. In politics this goes to comical extremes, with multimillionaire sons and daughters of Congressmen and presidents claiming that something about them makes them normal folks just like us. But it isn't limited to that. It permeates every aspect of our society and especially our professions. Academia is riddled with this kind of thinking; the children of Ivy League professors magically end up as Ivy League professors themselves, yet are curiously unwilling to admit to any sort of privilege or elite status in favor of clinging to the myth of meritocracy. I'm sure other fields experience little different.

More importantly, he identifies where the elite impulse to band together comes from. Early in the Kavanaugh process we all marveled at the number of purported liberals willing to gush over him because, his barbarian politics aside, he was one of them – a fellow Preppie and Yalie. And those ties run deeper than political ones. And, worst of all, the little people were trying to hurl accusations at Kavanaugh. People who are nobodies, from families that don't matter and aren't important to elites. The impulse to accuse Kavanaugh's accusers of lying comes less from a sincere belief that they are liars than from the Blue Blood tendency to pull rank; how dare you speak to one of us that way. You are nobody and you come from nobodies. And to people who think that way, maintaining the social expectations that plebes will speak to their betters only in certain tones and with no pretense of social equality is extremely important. So important that, by any objective standard, they will debase their reputations defending one another to protect it.

An important read.

34 thoughts on “I'M NOT ELITE, YOU'RE ELITE”

  • If I recall correctly Sen. Joe Biden wore his Princeton baseball cap while questioning fellow Princeton alumnus Samuel Alito during Alito’s nomination hearings.

    One would think that he would show no support for Alito but I guess it’s an elite thing.

  • I think we'd mind the elite less if they bothered to be exceptional, as well as elite. Occasionally you get an FDR out of that lily-strewn bog, but most of the time it's Betsy Devos, nee Prince, and her grin so vapid that the British Royals recoil–the smile of one who knows that inheritance has made her so bullet-proof that literally nothing bad will ever happen to her regardless of her choices, so why bother to know anything about making good choices? That grin–that smirk–that's the 'tell.' George W. Bush–another one who denied his status by mimicking shitkickerism–flashed it at us for 8 goddamned years.

    It's when the grin falls away–when something threatens, just for a second, to pierce the bubble–THAT'S when you gotta pull back and keep your arms and legs inside the car. Kavanaugh gave that grin all through his first committee appearance, and so did the GOPers who questioned him.

    Now, they've stopped smiling. And there's nothing worse than an unexceptional person with the power to punish a 'threat' to his elite status.

  • So, it isn't my imagination when I assume they all picture themselves as Cal Hockley, screaming "look at my, you filth!"?

  • I always try to remember that villains are heroes in their own minds. I also then wonder how they come to think of themselves that way – how does abusing people at the bottom of the ladder (or even a couple rungs above it) translate to "hero", without doing yogi-style mental gymnastics? What makes their sins somehow "better" than the rest of us?

    The Biden reference above is why I've never been quite as enamored about him as some people – Even Barack Obama sometimes pulled that crap ("But he's from Harvard! He must be OK!") and he should have known better.

  • Drezner quite rightly acknowledges Chris Hayes's "Twilight of the Elites" which points out that this country's elite have been fucking things up pretty badly WORLDWIDE since at least Vietnam (i.e. my entire life). As far as I'm concerned, they no longer have any reason to command the respect they once might have.

    And Judge Kavanaugh, whether or not the sexual allegations against him are true or not (and I suspect they are) is at the least guilty of perjury in his previous confirmation hearings. He strikes me as the kind of proto- yuppie scum I hated in hs and college. I know if he's not confirmed O'Connell will just get another Federalist Society dickbag to take his place, but it sure would make me happy in a pure spite kinda way.

  • "His mother was a history teacher at Woodson and McKinley high schools in Washington in the 1960s and 1970s . . . His father was an attorney and served as the president of the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association for two decades."

    Is that elite? He's Irish Catholic. His father was in charge of an obscure trade association. His mother was a public high school teacher. This is not a guy who was vacationing in the south of France every summer. He got in to Yale because he worked hard, not because anyone pulled strings for him. I grew up in the DC area and every single public school in DC is filled with guys like Brett Kavanaugh which means that all the guys I sat with at lunch are elite? Not possible.

  • He wasn't the product of a blue collar Catholic school. Please. It was a Catholic school all right, but he was brought up through a Republican mill and trained to be the yuppie/prep shit that he is. Please don't try to play the egalitarian/regular guy card here Mr. bjdudds. Thanks.

  • @bjdudds:

    The Kennedys are Irish Catholic, and by now they surely qualify as elite?

    That aside, Kavanaugh is not one of the Old Money hereditary elite. That's kind of the point. He's not an exceptionally brilliant legal mind either.

    Kavanaugh got to where he is because he's a loyal servant to the actual elites (hereditary and otherwise). He's someone the billionaires believe they can control. In this respect, the key feature of his background is not so much the alleged sex offences, as the mysterious paying-off of credit card debt. He gets to enjoy an upper-class lifestyle in exchange for being a reliably right-wing judge.


    Good stuff.

    BTW, the British titled aristocracy has lost most of its political and economic power in the last 100 years or so. Dukes, Earls, and so on still exist but are not well represented among those who actually make the decisions.

    More important is a wider group of people, more similar to the American Old Money elites. They usually don't have titles (although they may well be related to people who do). They can most easily be identified by education — elite fee-paying schools (would be known as private schools in the USA, confusingly called public schools in the UK) followed by one of the more socially exclusive colleges at Oxford or Cambridge.

    Former Prime Minister David Cameron is a good example — Eton, Oxford, grandson of a baronet (minor nobility) but with no aristocratic title of his own.

  • His mother taught at Woodson and McKinley, which are black high schools. Woodson is 98% black. Elite? HAHAHAHAHAHAHH

  • Yes his mother was a school teacher until she graduated law school and became a judge from 1995 through 2001, with other positions aside from teacher from 1978 on. But other than that blue collar hourly wage slave all the way.

  • Living as I do in South Korea, it's almost refreshing (I mean, they're still entitled assholes) when rich Korean elites just flat out state they're better than everyone else, and people who aren't them are "dogs."

    I mean, first against the wall and all that, but in some ways preferable to what Ed's pointing out as the American kabuki-charade of multi-millionaire Harvard and Yale grads presenting themselves as salt-of-the-earth 'Muricans.

    (And of course, this only works because _real_ salt-of-the-earth 'Muricans tend to lap that shit up, believing as they do that their own povery is their own fault and has nothing to do with structural inequality.)

  • State circuit court judge is not "elite." If your definition of elite includes two low-level civil service jobs, then you have no useful definition of elite. Kavanaugh's background is not by any stretch of the imagination, "elite." It's true that he's been good at jumping through the right hoops and cultivating the right contacts, but that's how the game is played, it's not "privilege" and it's not how the real elites operate. The real elites don't go to night school after putting in 20 years in the local school system.

  • Mm's plain-spoken assertions and recollections amaze.
    Never mind the fabrication about Princeton, merely note the tell: Mm recollects a United States Senator (and member of the Senate's Judiciary Committee) wearing a baseball cap during the Committee's televised hearings for a nominee to the Supreme Court. Full stop. And at the same hearing, the nominee wears a baseball cap, too. Full stop.

    What's the point of these inventive fabrications? Failed comedy?

  • @bjdudds: You continue to fail to grasp the point.

    Kavanaugh's parents were upper-middle-class, not elite. Congratulations on your mad research skillz.

    The OP notes that Kavanaugh himself has become one of the elite, so fellow elite members are willing to defend him, regardless of how much of a loathsome scumbag he is.

    That is the glory of America: With hard work and judicious bootlicking, any moderately well-off white male schmuck can become part of an exclusive club of entitled assholes.

  • It’s interesting that you think of tax feeders as “elites” and still keep putting them in front of the tax trough by way of the voting booth.

  • The Kennedy family was elite and unabashed about it. The big struggle in Boston was between the old Protestant elite and the new, rising Catholic elite. Joe Kennedy was a stock manipulator, SEC founder and ambassador. His sons were groomed for public service as members of the elite, noblesse oblige. JFK and RFK never pretended to be ordinary schmoes, though they did offer a platform an ordinary schmoe could get behind. (e.g. good things for ordinary schmoes). The Vietnam War ended the "best and brightest" thing that had started with FDR and then World War II. B&B might have gotten us through the Depression and world war, but it also got us into Vietnam. Elites were bad.

    My favorite example of elite denialism was Kaiser Wilhelm who portrayed himself as a man of the people. I found an old magazine article on this. He was just a guy who liked to hunt, saw wood, pet dogs, sit around the fire, granted, with aristocratic friends. There was even a picture of him sawing a log. For crying out loud, he was the hereditary ruler, the Kaiser. Sure, he might have been working "like a nigger" for his people, as the author Childers put it in Riddle of the Sands, but he was unarguably a member of the elite.

    If you study history though, you'll find the only source of change is through the elites. Rebellions by the ordinary schmoe simply get the warring elites to join hands, sing "Kumbaya", and massacre the rebels and their sympathizers. Every successful revolution has been supported by some elite coalition. This is as true in the US as in medieval Europe or dynastic China.

  • I wonder if the trollz that show up here outta the blue are assigned to pester various decent people by a lottery system or just a vindictive prick of a KKKlavern Dragon.

  • “All I can say is that we are 40-something days from the election and their only goal, not Ms. Ford’s goal, is to delay this past the midterms so they can win the Senate and never allow Trump to fill this seat,” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, told reporters in an angry monologue just outside the hearing room. “I believe that now more than ever.”




  • What members of the elite are defending Kavanaugh? There was one guy at Yale who said something nice about him. Otherwise he has been unrelentingly attacked as a rapist, gang rapist, alcoholic, child molester, and for grooming young women for Judge Kozinsky's harem. All the Drezner article said was that a judge is part of the elite – which is definitional! Thanks for that blinding insight Dan! The political science profession waits breathlessly for Zombies II: Revenge of the Elites.

  • For the .001%, the skeletons in Kavanaugh's closet are a plus, a guarantee they'll have his ear when they need it. A very plush thralldom, but still thralldom.

  • Senator Graham, we just think that, regarding the selection of a Supreme Court justice, it would be proper to wait until the American people have spoken. Surely you can't object to that?

  • "Otherwise he has been unrelentingly attacked as a rapist, gang rapist, alcoholic, child molester, and for grooming young women for Judge Kozinsky's harem."

    Lyin'fuckbagtrollz will be lyin'fuckbagtrollz.

    STFU, moron.

    Pro-Tip for assholes, like you: Use a smaller shovel.

  • Just for the record, Kavanaugh was a Yale legacy admittance. His paternal grandfather graduated from Yale.
    I'd say that was elite.

  • wow defending someone who is intent on fulfilling the Republican plan to enforce the mindset of the Right wingers. divide and conquer the peons, as it works every time.

    anyone who defends anything Republican nowadays is a traitor to the working class, for as someone said, "it is a club and you ain't in it." just watching the so called Democrats lose their minds over Trump while Trump does exactly what the Republicans have always said they would do; as in selling the rest of us out for MONEY. Trump is the Frankenstein/bull in the china shop. Republican use more finesse and "high faluting" wannabes to get their "agenda" done.

    and to see both the Democrats and Republicans fight over another Republican "standard" of excellence while screwing the rest of us. Did you read the Republicans made the Tax cuts permanent this past Friday while all eyes were on the Ford/Kavanaugh Diversion.

    the Elites know how to do their dirty work. they've been doing it since St. Reagan and his band of thieves took over the Republican party. oh wait. that was exactly what the Republican party always was.

    and to watch people get upset over the circus that is Congress. also read up about Schumer agreeing to "pass" all the lower court judges McConnell wanted. this happened on the sly, though it was reported.

    funny how the Democrats sell us out but have the temerity to cry "wolf" when it comes to the Supreme Court. not like the local Appeals Courts, or District Court judges matter, does it.

    At least we know we are getting Fuuked whenever a Republican get elected. that is just what a Republican stands for. "i've got mine, you, you can go "eff" yourself." or get better parents, aka bootstraps.

    While the Republicans are busy turning Earth into Venus, via global warming and killing ALL life forms that don't like near Volcanoes, The Democrats are busy waiting for an easy "show" like Kavanaugh, just to prove they care, lol. The D's care, no doubt, but only about appearances.

    American Exceptionalism, indeed

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