“Elite” is not a term of endearment in today’s political discourse. Writers, mostly from the right, pillory the elite as too powerful, too influential, too out of touch. But who are these “elites”?
Elites used to be easy to identify. Back in the day, they had titles such as duke, count or baron. Now some pundits seem to think that elite status comes from extreme wealth or advanced education (think university professors). Still more sense that “elites” are the political class in America — those elected to office, in some case, for decades. “Elite” is no compliment. Given the upcoming midterm elections, it seems to me important to discover who are these mysterious persons? Might I, gasp, be one?
Wealth is an easy marker. A person with boatloads of money might feel entitled. Such a person can be obnoxious, superior, perhaps a total jerk. That money can purchase influence over the political class via election donations and special favors of all sorts.
But the single most crucial factor in becoming wealthy is to pick rich parents. Sure, a smattering of folks may gain immense wealth the old-fashioned way, through hard work and intelligence. But they are outnumbered by the inheritors, who may be smart — or dumber than rocks. When I think of “elite,” I have difficulty placing people with money in this category, especially those who merely had their trust funds handed to them.
Then, there is the political class. They are a convenient target — easy to hate, demean and blame for our troubles. They do possess power, but of the truncated variety, limited by the Constitution’s framers with institutional checks and balances. And, after all, who put them in office? We, the voters, did.
What about advanced education? Full disclosure, I possess two graduate degrees. My wife has a doctorate. Is she an elite? Am I?
My parents were high school graduates. We were a poor blue-collar family of nine children. I inherited nothing. My military career began in the enlisted ranks. I was a staff sergeant before I was accepted into officer candidate school, and I pursued college at night and on the weekends. I retired as a senior soldier, then wrote a book after a successful second career in the United Nations. I have also taught government and history courses at the university level. All my life I have valued the lessons learned in graduate schools. Does education make one elite? Perhaps, but my long deceased working class parents would have been shocked to have me called “elite.”
By any definition, I am a self-made person, and I am proud of it. However, the anti-intellectual bias of too much of the MAGA crowd is obvious and pernicious. Based on considerable hate mail received regarding my previous commentaries, I have indeed been identified as one of the much despised elites.
I suspect the term has become an all-purpose convenient label for those on the far right who are distrustful and stewing in grievance. It is so much easier to dismiss, out-of-hand, the opinions of those who can be tarred with the made-to-order moniker “elite” when the term is so broad as to be meaningless — and even when those “elites” might sometimes actually know a thing or two. Please keep this in mind when voting.
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Robert Bruce Adolph is a retired senior U.S. Army Special Forces soldier and U.N. security chief, who is a long-time observer and writer on American politics. He holds graduate degrees in both international affairs and national security studies and strategy. He is author of “Surviving the United Nations: The Unexpected Challenge.”