The Elite

Author: Gary Hart

Trump supporters, we are told, forgive his many indiscretions so long as he pokes the eyes of the “elite”.  Often used, but seldom defined, what does it mean to be elite and who are they?

We each have our own image.  Mine is a corporate executive with an Ivy League education earning high six or usually seven figures annual income with kids in prep schools, membership in one or more exclusive country clubs, whose social circle is composed of similar types, and with high end cars in the garage.

But that individual, man or woman, voted for Trump.  And he or she ain’t me.  By not voting for Trump, did that make me one of the hated “elite”?

By any definition, no cohort in our society has benefited financial under Trump more than that kind of elite.

Let’s compare profiles.  The author grew up in a working-class household in a small Kansas farming town, attended public schools, graduated from a small church college, married his college sweetheart (and is now celebrating his and hers 60th wedding anniversary), lived frugally, and resides in a Colorado town of 800.

The author had some good fortune along the way.  I was accepted by and graduated from the Yale Divinity School and Law School.  That may have been on merit, but it also may have been a whimsical experiment by the admissions officers.  I was elected twice and served 12 years in the United States Senate.  That alone is pretty elite, but far be it from me to question the wisdom of Colorado voters.  And, yes, there was a strong, but unsuccessful, campaign for the presidency.

My deepest convictions are diametrically opposed to those of Mr. Trump.  He is far more elite, in large part thanks to inheritance, than I am.  Yet, for his supporters, people like me are “the elite” who deserve his thumb in the eye.

People like me deserve a better description than “elite”.  How about (1) those with a social conscience; (2) those who believe society’s wealth should be used in part to undergird the elderly, children in poverty, and the involuntarily unemployed; (3) those who think America should stand for principles, lead by example, accept a fair share of refugees, and cooperate with allies; (4) those who believe we are stewards of nature with a moral obligation to clean the air and water and preserve our more valuable spaces for future generations; (5) and those who believe a growing economy should benefit all, not just those, like Mr. Trump, who are at the top.

If that is what he calls “elite”, then I qualify.  But those who forgive him his transgressions and betrayal of the public trust as long as he uses us as punching bags to justify his betrayal of the best instincts of most Americans should find a better description.

How about loyal, conscientious, concerned, and humane Americans?

9 Responses to “The Elite”

  1. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    It may be time to accept that there really are two Americas and never the twain shall meet.

    The second civil “war” – a virtual war, in more ways than one – could split the country in two with one part joining Canada and including Hawai’i. That is becoming my dream.

    If the Democrats can’t find a leader who will unite the country in large part or die trying, then I can’t imagine how the US stays whole.

  2. Neil McCarthy Says:

    The Senator makes a more than reasonable point.

    There are many of us — myself included — who grew up in reasonable but by no means opulent circumstances. Mine was a neighborhood in Brooklyn in a semi-attached home and (later) apartment, attending local Catholic elementary school and a Jesuit high school, the latter two of which would never be confused with Andover or Choate; they were, in effect, public schools for Catholic kids. In any case, following good fortune in the form of admission to Dartmouth and thereafter Yale Law School, and as soon as I ran for office as a Democrat, I was painted as an “elitist”.

    Here’s what I think is going on.

    First, the painters are not remotely trying to be accurate or speak the truth. They do not care. The charge moves some voters and so it is made. Often by those who actually are elitists. Absent widespread disgust and education and speaking out, there really is no solution.

    Second, the claim has some roots in the resentment many middle class people feel over having to bear what in their minds is a disproportionate burden in the march of progress. The busing crisis of the late ’60s and early ’70s was a case in point. Schools were segregated and resources were grossly and unevenly distributed. But, that said, most (or at least many) of the folks who opposed busing just didn’t want their kids going to lousy schools and did not understand why they had to be the losers in remedying discrimination; this became especially virulent among families who had struggled to live in neighborhoods with good schools, and while they no doubt benefitted from discrimination (in housing particularly), they weren’t the cause of it. Throw in support for busing by liberals who were rich but whose kids were shielded (e.g., Ted Kennedy) and — voila — you have given birth to the elitism among progressives charge.

    Third, to avoid resentment, social progress requires buy-in and often during the past forty years progressives either have not done the hard work needed to obtain that or have failed to structure programs in a way that would create it. The best social program ever enacted was Social Security (which more or less elminated poverty among the aged, who until then were the group most likely to suffer it) and its genius is that everyone gets it. The same can be said of Medicare. It is no accident that Trump, an elitist par excellence, was alone among Republicans in saying he’d never touch those programs, and — though he’s probably lying about this given his general love affair with mendacity — it worked (albeit barely) at an electoral level. Hence, a consummate elitist becomes a populist and feeds off the resentment (with which, as a child who grew up in NYC’s outer borough of Queens, he is very familiar) generated previously by other social programs where buy-in wasn’t created (busing was one of them).

    [As an aside, and to Elizabeth, who gets Alaska?]

  3. Paul G Says:


    “I have a much better apartment.” – DT, 2017 –

    Almost 50 years ago an almost-president made frequent remarks about students he and his boss perceived to be the ‘elite’ threat to their imperial idea of America:

    “Education is being redefined at the demand of the uneducated to suit the ideas of the uneducated. The student now goes to college to proclaim rather than to learn. The lessons of the past are ignored … A spirit of national masochism prevails, encouraged by an effete core of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals.”

    Our self-obsessed president was then a “student” at a military school. Now, he projects almost daily the former near-president’s visceral hatred for “conscientious, concerned, and humane Americans” loyal to our hard-earned Constitution and Bill of Rights.

    At our peril we dismiss our president’s rantings as merely reactionary. As a former “elite” president warned us not too long ago, such leaders are a direct threat to our republic’s survival: “We must especially beware of that small group of selfish men who would clip the wings of the American eagle in order to feather their own nests.” – FDR, 1933 – 1945

  4. Gary Hart Says:

    Neil has succinctly summarized the dilemma. We lost the South over civil rights and many whites elsewhere on issues of equality. The embrace of women’s rights alienated a lot of males. Pursuit of a cleaner environment was said to be “job killing.” And opposition to Vietnam made us seem anti-military, anti-defense, and anti-national security. A price is always paid for doing the right thing. GH


    Every post as good, contributions as well.

    To any like Elizabeth, this applies in most countries. Mine is less polarised historically, that not so today, with Brexit chaotic and divisive.

    The so called elite are not the problem even if we see there is one, like with Senator Bernie S and his “top one per cent” the response should now onwards be elevate the “bottom ninety nine per cent.”

    Churchill ” socialism seeks to pull down wealth Liberalism seeks to raise up poverty.”

  6. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    A price is always paid for doing the right thing, most especially when those doing the right thing are, for some unkown reason(s), not capable of effectively communicating why they are doing it.

    The price would not be so high if leaders were able to explain what they are doing and why it is right.

    This isn’t complicated.

  7. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Senator Hart,

    I think there are many definitions of ‘elite’ which are really in the eye of the beholder. Our definition of elite is not how many in Trump’s base might define it.

    From what I have been able to surmise after watching Trump and his supporters at his rallies, pre-election and post, elites may be defined as those who are highly educated with power over the people that has largely been used to accelerate their own personal and professional progress, economically and politically, to the detriment of the average person and do so using a language that reinforces their elitist image whenever they speak.

    The question is how do you communicate to people who voted for Trump (his base plus many others, with emphasis on the many others) that their definition of elite is wrong?

    The answer I think is for Democrats everywhere to figure out how to communicate clearly the very message you yourself wrote in this posting:

    “People like me deserve a better description than “elite”. How about (1) those with a social conscience; (2) those who believe society’s wealth should be used in part to undergird the elderly, children in poverty, and the involuntarily unemployed; (3) those who think America should stand for principles, lead by example, accept a fair share of refugees, and cooperate with allies; (4) those who believe we are stewards of nature with a moral obligation to clean the air and water and preserve our more valuable spaces for future generations; (5) and those who believe a growing economy should benefit all, not just those, like Mr. Trump, who are at the top.”

  8. Eric Jacobson Says:

    While doing online research last month on the genius psychologist Erich Fromm for an article I was writing, I ran across this powerful passage (copied-and-pasted-in at the foot of this comment) written by Benny Goodman, a British nurse. He is discussing and updating the insights Fromm set forth in 1956 about the U.S. and all Western societies in his seminal book The Sane Society.

    That was before Vietnam, the assassinations of the 1960s, and the 50 years of conservatism and conservatism-lite and all the accompanying institutional decay and scandal since 1968, the year-of-the-locusts of recent American history.

    Goodman speaks below of “normal people” but he is being sarcastic: He’s referring to elites, the “powers that be”, the ruling class, whatever term one wants to use for the bad-show-runners of our Not-Great Society. They all have in common one thing, and alas, it is something that blinds them to the precariousness of their positions: a superiority complex without the superiority.

    (Btw, this is a phrase Jesse Jackson once wickedly employed to describe the host in December 1987 when he returned to the 1988 Democratic presidential race, something for which Jesse should 30-years-belatedly apologize. Alas a retraction of that jibe from the left is about as likely as neo-con Joseph Epstein retracting his similar jibe at Sen. Hart from the right in Epstein’s infamous 1985 NY Times Magazine article in which branded the host a “virtucrat”. See . These expectorations were rightist polemicist Epstein’s feeble attempt to make a pejorative out of Hart’s or any other advantaged person’s conscientiousness and sense of civic virtue and public morality. I rejoined insolent Epstein in real time here .)

    If I were an American privileged elite nowadays I’d be worried about the durability of arrangements my kind wrought (on a bipartisan basis) that long ago abolished the middle class American Dream for the vast majority of Americans and super-empowered the super-rich.

    Btw: After posting my comment to this effect in this space on June 10th at 4:40 pm (within the June 7th “Idealism in Hiding” thread) I questioned whether my observation that between “1988-2016…the American Dream effectively died for the vast majority of the U.S. public” was really true. An article here (about the post-war DIY era of home-ownership and construction), along with surveys showing that most Americans lack the $500 in savings they might need to deal with an unexpected household emergency — see (2016) and (2018) — persuades me that I was not exaggerating.

    Today (largely out-of-sight and out-of-mind of the meretricious commercial media and much of the so-called public media) most Americans resemble the quietly desperate characters in Arthur Miller’s plays. See Uber driver Ruben Gonzales’ story linked here:

    Mr. Gonzales has to work 7 days a week to support his small family! Thus modern elites are undoing what I’ve long regarded as perhaps the Jewish people’s leading contribution to civilization: the Biblical injunction that there be a “day of rest” every week. It is a dignitary difference that distinguishes a free person from a slave.

    In sum: U.S. elites long ago “went too far.” And soon may “hear the people sing” (angrily) as the song in Les Mis (about the 1830 French uprising) goes.

    Query: Will conservative elites’ ultra-cynical stratagem of creating a regressive fake populism in 2015-2016 (Trump) to counter an enlightened real populism (Sanders) have a successful encore in 2020? As the whole world (outside Trump rallies) now realizes (in the lexicon of the didactic panels in the childhood magazine Highlights): the former was personified by Goofus and the latter by Gallant: .

    I suspect most of Trump’s supporters will soon wise up and be open to switching to a real populist in 2020. It is becoming more obvious and undeniable with every passing day that Trump’s entire political project was- and is an utterly fraudulent sham, as I pointed out in my Counterpunch article in January. See . Who but a political criminal and moral cipher would do such a thing?

    And it is the wrath of Trump’s own voters that will likely doom his political project. The bait-and-switch handwriting has been on the wall since early 2017 (when Don-the-Con installed a “swamp Cabinet”) and became open-and-notorious in Dec. 2017 with the passage of the tax cuts for the rich. Trump’s recent trial balloon to non-legislatively further enrich the ravenous rich is all anyone should need to be persuaded that Trump takes care of his own wealthy elite kind only. See and here: .

    In American Greed tv episodes one of the saddest aspects is seeing the emotions of those who realize they’ve been bilked by hustlers/con artists/pyramid scheme operators etc. out of their life savings. Also the gyrations the “marks” go through (before the “reveal”) to ignore all the signs they’ve been swindled and played for fools.

    Trump’s have-little/have-not base has seen no dent in their economic plight (how could they when Trump is a planted agent of their .01% oppressors and exploiters?) and I believe can be “woken” from their trances by even one capable non-conservative presidential candidate. Of course such a candidate has to have some populist bona fides.

    Only elite pusillanimous Dems (inter alia, by continuing with their madcap Russiagate gibberish and sleeping with the selfish 1% enemy and by nominating an untalented small-bore moderate based on anti-radical/anti-liberal biases and/or ethnic and/or gender considerations) can snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory in 2020 now. And probably will.

    “It is reasonable to ask the question who is actually “mad” here?

    ‘Normal’ men were responsible for killing probably over 100,000,000 of their ‘normal’ brethren in the last century.

    ‘Normal’ men planned mutually assured destruction of millions in nuclear war, ‘normal’ men recently sent armies into foreign countries resulting in many thousands of civilian deaths. And yes, it is usually men who plan, send others, and carry out the killing and maiming.

    ‘Normal’ men in testosterone fuelled frenzies, armed with clever mathematics, and a disregard for the welfare of society, gambled on financial markets and lost (Elliott and Atkinson 2011). Correction, civil society lost, many of these ‘masters of the universe’ simply ‘Oliver like’ asked for ‘more’ as they held out their begging bowls to government.

    ‘Normal’ men in powerful positions are sanguine (if not happy) to allow unemployment to rise, houses to be repossessed, healthcare to be inaccessible, health inequalities to continue (The Lancet 2012), because to do otherwise would upset the market and the demands of the bottom line.

    ‘Normal’ men have prostituted themselves to the idea of the sovereignty of economics, practicing an economics as if people did not matter.

    ‘Normal’ men design ever more sophisticated means to persuade other ‘normal’ men to buy stuff they did not know they needed, with money they have not got, to impress people they do not know (Gannon and Lawson 2010, Monbiot 2011).

    ‘Normal’ men designed, marketed and sold credit systems to people who would have difficulty paying the sums back in an attempt to correct insufficiency of demand as a result of the flatlining of wages across the developed world (Elliot and Atkinson 2011).

    Any nurse interested in fostering human flourishing, capability or well-being could consider the ‘upstream’ causes of distress and ill health. Fromm asks us to go so far upstream as to be looking at the river’s source: Society.”


  9. Mark Isenberg Says:

    Hello from Florida,
    A few of us McGovern volunteers know Gary Hart was and is a good man,married to Lee for 60 years with one minor moment of ouch.Look at where we are with the current President if one must compare. So,with Democrats in disarray especially in Florida,is there no one after Sen.McCain to seek compromise in the Congress and bypass the President and his twitter diatribes? Because in 1972,we knew Senator McGovern was going to lose but he had some ideals worth supporting especially during the Vietnam conflict. Today,we see Sen.Hart seeking common sense solutions for Northern Ireland,for America but he is an old wise man that few listen to. I like this blog and sympathize with the loss of his friend. Somebody in the White House should have a conversation with Mr.Hart. I know it won’t likely happen just as in 1972 when good young men were dying over there for very little and Sen.McGovern said”Come Home America.”

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