Even David Brooks is admitting it: “Our elites really do stink.” And he’s right. But why? In part because they’re inbred, and care too much about each other’s opinions.
I’ve been watching a lot of institutions fail, lately, from Hollywood, to the news media, to the NFL and ESPN, to political parties and academia, and I see a common factor. The problem is that whatever job its members are supposed to be doing at the moment, our ruling class cares more about what the rest of the ruling class thinks about it, than about the job it’s supposed to be doing. The result, quite often, is a debacle.
Take the NFL protests. These have played badly with fans — you know, the people who actually attend the games and watch them on TV. But to Roger Goodell and the people who run the NFL, “social justice” and progressive views on race take a priority. So even though the player protests have been poison for ratings, the NFL so far has been unwilling to stop them.
And look at ESPN. As a sports network, its primary audience is white, often working-class men who want to watch and talk about sports. But ESPN’s on-air talent seems determined to pretend that they’re on MSNBC, delivering “woke” lessons about politics to an audience that wants to hear sports news. Again, the on-air talent and the management are heavily invested in looking progressive to other folks in broadcasting. The audience? They’re an afterthought. (ESPN finally suspended Jemele Hill for suggesting that people supporting the players start a boycott, but was okay when she called President Trump a “white supremacist,” and when host Michelle Beadle told white men to “shut up and listen for five minutes.” The fans aren’t so hot on being lectured, apparently; ESPN’s ratings are falling and its financial future is in doubt.
Hollywood was happy to talk about politics, too, and lecture the rest of America about how morally inferior we are compared to our show business betters — Hollywood is America’s moral conscience, according to Harvey Weinstein enabler George Clooney. Everyone in Hollywood posed and preened in support of various progressive causes, even as they were, in fact, covering for all sorts of sexual predators. On top of that, most of the films they’ve been making are terrible. (Mostly remakes, comic-book movies and, for variety, remakes of comic-book movies; when it’s something new it’s often a preachy bomb like Suburbicon.)
Of course, in my own field of higher education it’s the same. When students on campus went from simply protesting to disrupting events and classes and mobbing speakers (and fellow students), the leaders of higher education didn’t respond appropriately. Part of it is cowardice on their part, but that cowardice stemmed largely from an agreement with the protesters, because they shared the values of higher education administrators. (I’m betting pro-Trump student groups who shut down classes or assaulted speakers, if such existed, would have been given far less leeway). Now the schools where those protesters ruled, from the University of Missouri to Evergreen State to Reed College to OberlinCollege, are in trouble. Had the leaders done their jobs, instead of trying to look good for their peers, the institutions they were entrusted with would be doing better.
The current hip term for this behavior is “virtue signaling” — the effort to demonstrate to one’s peer groups that one holds all the right views and positions. But of course, all humans virtue signal to a degree. What makes it worse today is that our ruling class is such a monoculture. In the words of Angelo Codevilla:
“Today’s ruling class, from Boston to San Diego, was formed by an educational system that exposed them to the same ideas and gave them remarkably uniform guidance, as well as tastes and habits. These amount to a social canon of judgments about good and evil, complete with secular sacred history, sins (against minorities and the environment), and saints. Using the right words and avoiding the wrong ones when referring to such matters — speaking the ‘in’ language — serves as a badge of identity.”
And it’s an intensely tribal group, one with great fear of ostracism. A century ago, America had different, overlapping ruling classes with different values: Corporate moguls seldom sought the approval of press barons who seldom cared what academics thought about them and vice versa. Now they’re all cut from the same cloth, which makes this phenomenon much more pronounced, and much more dangerous.
Our ruling class has a diversity problem. But I think it’s about to get more diverse. Which is good. Because the current one, as Brooks says, stinks.
Too many people in my own line of work crave attention, approval and to be seen as cool, particularly those who work in Washington and state capitols. We’re not. We shouldn’t try to be.