The 1 percent

Maureen Callahan:

For anyone still wondering why Middle America’s so angry, just take a look at the guest list for the annual bash thrown by Washington Post heiress Lally Weymouth, currently the paper’s senior associate editor, in the Hamptons last week.

It was full of politicians and power brokers — the ones who pantomime outrage daily, accusing the other side of crushing the little guy, sure that the same voter will never guess that behind closed doors, they all get along.

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner partied with billionaire Democratic donor George Soros, who rubbed shoulders with billionaire GOP donor David Koch.

Chuck Schumer and Kellyanne Conway were there. So were Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Ronald Lauder, Carl Icahn, Joel Klein, Cathie Black, reporters Steve Clemons and Maria Bartiromo, columnists Richard Cohen and Margaret Carlson, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, Ray Kelly, Bill Bratton and Steven Spielberg.

Oh, and Lally’s uncle, former Gov. and Sen. Bob Graham, and cousin Gwen Graham, who’s currently running for her dad’s old job as Florida’s governor.

Weymouth’s party is the latest reminder that for all the bruising rhetoric, the constant polls showing a deeply divided America and the most polarizing president in history, our battle isn’t red vs. blue, right vs. left: It’s about the 1% vs. the rest of us. They laugh as we take their political theater for real.

“If you believe any of these people care about you, you are mistaken,” Samuel Ronan tweeted. “The Hamptons might as well [be] another planet.”

Ronan’s running for Congress from Ohio’s First Congressional District. His platform? Campaign finance reform and lobbying restriction. We’ll see how long that lasts if he wins next year.

No one’s immune. Even Barack Obama, who once said, “I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money,” has spent his post-presidency cashing $400,000 speaking fees and kitesurfing with Richard Branson. Hillary’s campaign was compromised by shady dealings with big donors to the Clinton Foundation. Trump won by fighting for the forgotten worker yet advances policies that benefit the wealthy.

The journalists who want to belong are no better. The press is supposed to be oppositional, adversarial — comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, as the old saw goes — yet almost every year, otherwise respected reporters jockey for seats at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner like desperate kids playing musical chairs.

In the Trump era, such familiarity cuts both ways. The president was wrong, of course, tweeting insults at MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski, but what were she and Joe Scarborough doing at Mar-a-Lago last New Year’s Eve? Why were they so chummy with an incoming president?

In February 2016, CNN reported that Scarborough’s then-friendship with candidate Trump was a major network concern.

“I’ve actually called him up and said, ‘Donald, you need to speak in complete sentences at debates,’ ” Scarborough boasted at the 92nd Street Y in November 2015. A member of the media, ratings bolstered by Trump’s frequent appearances, giving the front-runner advice — often.

Little wonder that trust in politicians and the media has reached historic lows: According to Gallup, 42 percent of Americans trust their political leaders and only 32 percent trust the mainstream media.

At Lally Weymouth’s party, her brother toasted Spielberg for making a film about former editor-in-chief Katherine Graham, their mother, and her superstar editor Ben Bradlee, who made his career on the Pentagon Papers and Watergate. Yet throughout his life, Bradlee boasted most of one thing: He may have been a journalist covering John F. Kennedy, but he truly believed they were best friends.

The New York Times’ David Brooks wrote this, which started interestingly …

Over the past generation, members of the college-educated class have become amazingly good at making sure their children retain their privileged status. They have also become devastatingly good at making sure the children of other classes have limited chances to join their ranks.

How they’ve managed to do the first task — giving their own children a leg up — is pretty obvious. It’s the pediacracy, stupid. Over the past few decades, upper-middle-class Americans have embraced behavior codes that put cultivating successful children at the center of life. As soon as they get money, they turn it into investments in their kids.

Upper-middle-class moms have the means and the maternity leaves to breast-feed their babies at much higher rates than high school-educated moms, and for much longer periods.

Upper-middle-class parents have the means to spend two to three times more time with their preschool children than less affluent parents. Since 1996, education expenditures among the affluent have increased by almost 300 percent, while education spending among every other group is basically flat.

As life has gotten worse for the rest in the middle class, upper-middle-class parents have become fanatical about making sure their children never sink back to those levels, and of course there’s nothing wrong in devoting yourself to your own progeny.

It’s when we turn to the next task — excluding other people’s children from the same opportunities — that things become morally dicey. Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institution recently published a book called “Dream Hoarders” detailing some of the structural ways the well educated rig the system.

The most important is residential zoning restrictions. Well-educated people tend to live in places like Portland, New York and San Francisco that have housing and construction rules that keep the poor and less educated away from places with good schools and good job opportunities.

These rules have a devastating effect on economic growth nationwide. Research by economists Chang-Tai Hsieh and Enrico Moretti suggests that zoning restrictions in the nation’s 220 top metro areas lowered aggregate U.S. growth by more than 50 percent from 1964 to 2009. The restrictions also have a crucial role in widening inequality. An analysis by Jonathan Rothwell finds that if the most restrictive cities became like the least restrictive, the inequality between different neighborhoods would be cut in half. …

… and then smacked into a wall of conceit that you would expect from the aforementioned 1 percent …

Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.

American upper-middle-class culture (where the opportunities are) is now laced with cultural signifiers that are completely illegible unless you happen to have grown up in this class. They play on the normal human fear of humiliation and exclusion. Their chief message is, “You are not welcome here.”

In her thorough book “The Sum of Small Things,” Elizabeth Currid-Halkett argues that the educated class establishes class barriers not through material consumption and wealth display but by establishing practices that can be accessed only by those who possess rarefied information.

To feel at home in opportunity-rich areas, you’ve got to understand the right barre techniques, sport the right baby carrier, have the right podcast, food truck, tea, wine and Pilates tastes, not to mention possess the right attitudes about David Foster Wallace, child-rearing, gender norms and intersectionality.

… about which London’s Daily Mail smirks:

A New York Times columnist has been mocked after he described taking a friend with ‘only a high school degree’ to a Mexican restaurant after she was ‘anxious’ about his first choice, a gourmet eatery, because of the words on the menu.

David Brooks, 55, was made fun of for his column published on Tuesday titled, ‘How We Are Ruining America’. …

The column made Brooks a trending topic on Twitter, with some users mocking the story as condescending.

‘This is an utterly insane graf from david brooks’s latest column,’ Max Read wrote, referencing the above paragraph. …

‘For any woman who has ever felt overwhelmed or scared by a sandwich menu, david brooks is here for you sweetie. He’ll help,’ writer Eve Peyser tweeted.

‘Me: *takes friend to sandwich shop* Friend: *not sure what to order* Me: Ah, you’re too stupid for sandwiches, we’ll go somewhere else,’ another person said.

‘Another great morning for me, David Brooks’ friend. Time to dig into my pedestrian Mexican lunch and read his latest column…,’ Luke O’Neill added.

Fellow Times columnist Ross Douthat also chimed in, tweeting that he too was intimidated by Italian menus, despite having an elite education.

… which in turn got snarky responses:

So this genius doesn’t know that when you graduate from high school you get a diploma, not a degree?

One of the key characteristics of liberals/leftists/Democrats/Progressives/etc. individuals is the absolute, unshakable certainty that they are both morally and intellectually superior to any who are not like minded. It is this characteristic that drives them to strive to dominate the lives of those that they refer to as “irredeemable deplorables” . They claim that they are doing this to improve the lives of the benighted but, in truth, it is because that attitude validates their self esteem. Moreover, they cannot hold themselves accountable for the failures of their attempts because in all instances they are convinced that the failure is due to the inability of the benighted to rise to the level necessary for their intended objectives to be attained. In this instance Mr. Brooks, rather than admit that in in spite of his superiority he was unable to foresee the unfortunate result of his choice of restaurant, he blames his benighted companion for being benighted.

Pretentious ass. A kinder person would have described the ingredients. Expensive food is not always good food. Ignorance is not stupidity and education does not always equal intelligence. He owes his friend a sincere apology and another meal.

The irony of this is that Donald Trump certainly is part of the 1 percent, and yet people make fun of him for his apparent fondness of well-done (that is, overdone) steak, his mother’s meat loaf and ketchup. Quelle horreur!

You wonder why this country is as divided as it is? Brooks and I have two things in common — we’re both journalists, and we’re both white men. And that’s it. If I’m confused about a word on a menu, I ask. (Not that I eat high-end Italian very frequently anyway.) I should hate to see bad things happen to other journalists, but perhaps a firing or 200,000 would force them to focus on what’s actually important, which is not what Italian breads are called.

 

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