David Brooks, the author of The New York Times column quoted below, views himself as an anti-Trump member of America’s elite educated class.
(p. A18) Donald Trump seems to get indicted on a weekly basis. Yet he is utterly dominating his Republican rivals in the polls, and he is tied with Joe Biden in the general election surveys. Trump’s poll numbers are stronger against Biden now than at any time in 2020.
What’s going on here? Why is this guy still politically viable, after all he’s done?
. . .
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.
Daniel Markovits summarized years of research in his book “The Meritocracy Trap”: “Today, middle-class children lose out to the rich children at school, and middle-class adults lose out to elite graduates at work. Meritocracy blocks the middle class from opportunity. Then it blames those who lose a competition for income and status that, even when everyone plays by the rules, only the rich can win.”
. . .
Members of our class also segregate ourselves into a few booming metro areas: San Francisco, D.C., Austin and so on. In 2020, Biden won only 500 or so counties, but together they are responsible for 71 percent of the American economy. Trump won over 2,500 counties, responsible for only 29 percent. Once we find our cliques, we don’t get out much. In the book “Social Class in the 21st Century,” the sociologist Mike Savage and his co-researchers found that the members of the highly educated class tend to be the most insular, measured by how often we have contact with those who have jobs unlike our own.
. . .
Elite institutions have become so politically progressive in part because the people in them want to feel good about themselves as they take part in systems that exclude and reject.
For the full commentary, see:
David Brooks. “What if We’re the Bad Guys Here?” The New York Times (Friday, August 4, 2023): A18.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Aug. 2, 2023, and has the same title as the print version.)
The books cited by Brooks in the passages quoted above are:
Markovits, Daniel. The Meritocracy Trap: How America’s Foundational Myth Feeds Inequality, Dismantles the Middle Class, and Devours the Elite. New York: Penguin Press, 2019.
Savage, Mike. Social Class in the 21st Century. London: Pelican Books, 2015.