The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

All About Power

In a thoughtful piece on how the elites on both the right and the left have failed in their attempts at effective governance, Chris Bray writes:
Today a well-entrenched class of professional thinkers largely understands expertise as the product of formal education and relationships to elite universities: You become an expert, or start to, by acquiring academic credentials. Extra points for grad school, and more points still for being a professor like Paul Krugman or Jonathan Gruber. Like the administrative class in Vichy France, or the scholar-officials of imperial China, you’re smart if you go to school a lot and excel on your exams, so you get to be in charge of some piece of the political or cultural mechanism.

But is it working? Are our credentialing instruments producing people who are capable of practical action? To borrow a question from firefighters, can our credential-holders put the wet stuff on the red stuff?

Nearly a decade ago, Angelo Codevilla noticed the calcification of the American ruling class, a thing we sometimes pretend not to have. Our elites, he wrote, are “formed by an educational system that exposed them to the same ideas and gave them remarkably uniform guidance, as well as tastes and habits.” Thoroughly enculturated, the American elite gathers itself around a “social canon” that one does not question. Speaking of societal controversy with the wrong words puts a person outside the circle, out there in flyover country with the deplorables.
The simple reality is that the "best and the brightest"—many graduates of Ivy League schools, most with backgrounds in Law or political science, have made a real mess of governance.
  • They are experts at identifying problems but never effectively solving them.
  • They hide behind the decision of a group so that they won't have to take responsibility for decision made on their own.
  • They are often ignorant of the challenges facing those who actually do try to accomplish things in the private sector, but at the same time are unduly influenced by private sector lobbyists and big money coming from private sector entities.
  • They are adept at sponsoring specious studies, but never having any intention of actually acting on their findings.
  • They love to conduct hearings and "investigations" (just wait for House Dems to get started in the next Congress), but have neither the intelligence nor integrity to know when an "investigation' has become an inquisition.
  • They are successful at acquiring power, but abject failures at accomplishing anything that truly benefits a broad segment of the governed.
  • They are adept at spending other people's money on groups, projects, and things that benefit no one but the groups, projects and things that feed off the largess of the elites.
  • The are facile liars who consciously decide to embrace dishonest by convincing themselves its for the greater good
  • They are hypocrites, they are sanctimonious, and they are appallingly ineffective.
Bray continues:
For some time now, the credentialing of new American elites has centered not on knowledge and ability but on a set of cultural postures and social signals ... As Codevilla noted, our cultural upper classes and our economic upper classes don’t invariably overlap; a magnificently wealthy pro-Trump owner of coal mines or slaughterhouses is a lower-class person who happens to have a bunch of money. Don Blankenship doesn’t dine in the Hamptons with Lynn Forester de Rothschild. National political journalists, a status group that once ranked on par with show people and bartenders, are upper class, no matter their salaries. They lose their class status the moment they speak the wrong social code words, like, “I think Trump is doing a good job.” They know this, and live with an existential sense of status anxiety over it. For 40 years, with gathering uniformity of purpose, our credentialing institutions have taught postures rather than skills, attitudes rather than knowledge. This isn’t invariably true, and many fine scholars have taught many excellent practitioners, especially outside of the humanities and social sciences. But the overarching trend is toward training in intellectual and psychological uniformity, toward the world of excellent sheep.
Bah. Bah. Bah. But there's more to it than that. Those who govern build teams, and those teams are often composed on people just like them. Bray provides an example:
So the very finest people, elevated to positions of responsibility, do essentially nothing, but with elaborate demonstrations of rhetorical restraint. Samantha Power was a highly regarded journalist, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who taught at our top-ranked school of government at one of our most elite universities. As a diplomat, she accomplished — what? In Syria, In Libya, in Iran, in Cuba, in Russia or China or Yemen or Saudi Arabia or North Korea, what did the highly credentialed mandarins of the Obama administration, led by a graduate of Harvard Law School, accomplish in the real world? Staffing up a new administration, Barack Obama hired Power, professor Cass Sunstein, professor Steven Chu, professor Christina Romer, and so on. Donald Trump hired generals, CEOs, and governors, people who were credentialed by lives of action and management. This isn’t disagreement; this is a difference of foundational premises. In short: Trump declines the authority of the cultural sectors that most assertively claim it. That’s the conflict, and that’s why it’s being played in a relentless tone of hysteria. There are credentialing authorities — and credential-holding elites — who can see the path to their own obsolescence. Like the empress dowager, they will not go quietly.
Maybe more than anything, it's the threat Trump poses to the cultural dominance of the elites and their followers that drives Trump Derangement Syndrome and its ugly tactics. After all, it is all about power.