terça-feira, 19 de julho de 2016
The world is taking its revenge against elites. When will America's wake up?
The world is taking its revenge against elites. When will America's wake up?
Tuesday 19 July 2016 16.15 BST
Despite the shocks – Brexit, Trump, Dallas – a complacent political class shows no sign of changing its venal ways. The consequences will be dire
A snapshot of America in the middle of June 2016. It is several days before the first great shock of the summer, the Brexit vote, and here in America, all is serene. The threat posed by Senator Bernie Sanders has been suppressed. The Republicans have chosen a preposterous windbag to lead them; the consensus is that he will be a pushover. For all the doubts and dissent of the last year, the leadership faction of the country’s professional class seem to have once again come out on top, and they are ready to accept the gratitude of the nation.
And so President Barack Obama did an interview with Business Week in which he was congratulated for his stewardship of the economy and asked “what industries” he might choose to join upon his retirement from the White House. The president replied as follows:
… what I will say is that – just to bring things full circle about innovation – the conversations I have with Silicon Valley and with venture capital pull together my interests in science and organization in a way I find really satisfying.
In relating this anecdote, I am not aiming to infuriate because the man we elected in 2008 to get tough with high finance and shut the revolving door was now talking about taking his own walk through that door and getting a job in finance. No. My object here is to describe the confident, complacent mood of the country’s ruling class in the middle of last month. So let us continue.
On the morning after British voters chose to leave the European Union, Obama was in California addressing an audience at Stanford University, a school often celebrated these days as the pre-eminent educational institution of Silicon Valley. The occasion of the president’s remarks was the annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit, and the substance of his speech was the purest globaloney, flavored with a whiff of vintage dotcom ebullience. Obama marveled at the smart young creative people who start tech businesses. He deplored bigotry as an impediment that sometimes keeps these smart creative people from succeeding. He demanded that more power be given to the smart young creatives who are transforming the world. Keywords included “innovation”, “interconnection”, and of course “Zuckerberg”, the Facebook CEO, who has appeared with Obama on so many occasions and whose company is often used as shorthand by Democrats to signify everything that is wonderful about our era.
Everyone was down with the international entrepreneuriat in those sunny days. Less than a week after Obama’s salute to them at Stanford, Hillary Clinton paid a visit to an innovative co-working space in Denver and rolled out a plan for rewarding this very same cohort of clear-eyed, tech-respecting citizens. “Today’s dynamic and competitive global economy demands an ambitious national commitment to technology, innovation and entrepreneurship,” declared the “briefing” her campaign released on that occasion; to make that commitment, Clinton proposed deferring the student loans of young people who start businesses … because I guess the promise of tech riches isn’t incentive enough.
It felt so right, this Democratic infatuation with the triumphant young global professional. So right, and for a certain class of successful Americans, so very, very obvious. What you do with winners like these is you celebrate them. Winners need to win. Winners need to have their loan payments deferred, to have venture capital directed their way by a former president. That all these gestures might actually represent self-serving behavior by an insular elite does not appear to have crossed our leaders’ minds in those complacent days of June 2016.
But by the time of Hillary Clinton’s speech the happy, complacent mood was already beginning to crumble. Just a few days before her salute to tech winners came Brexit, a blunt and ugly rejection of some of her cohort’s most cherished ideas. A short while later came the FBI’s pronouncement on Hillary Clinton’s email practices, removing the threat of prosecution but not the aura of outrageous misbehavior. And then, like a drumbeat of horror, came a series of police shootings of black men, followed quickly by the murder of five policemen in Dallas. Over it all hung the fear that these events might somehow propel this unthinkable man, Donald Trump, into the White House.
The world of accepted ideas was coming apart, and no one caught the new mood better than the New York Times’s David Brooks, a man who has spent his career describing the inner lives of the nation’s prosperous white-collar elite. Ordinarily a dealer in witty aphorisms and upper-crust humor, Brooks now wrote a column entitled “Are We On the Path to National Ruin?” in which he speculated darkly about the possibility of fascism in America. “The crack of some abyss opened up for a moment by the end of last week,” he wrote. “It’s very easy to see this country on a nightmare trajectory.”
Brooks-in-despair is a pitiful sight, and one can’t help but sympathize. But what’s really remarkable about the response to these shocks of people like him has been their inability to acknowledge that their own satisfied white-collar class might be part of the problem. On this they are utterly in denial and whatever the disaster, the answer they give is always … more of the same. More “innovation”. More venture capital. More sharp young global Stanford entrepreneurs. There is no problem that more people like they themselves can’t solve.
Consider the New York Times think-piece on the Brexit that ran on 7 July. It mocked the British government for being dominated by a tiny, incestuous circle of friends, but then reassured readers that things simply aren’t like that here in the USA: “It’s as if President Obama’s inner circle consisted almost entirely of his friends, neighbors and fellow Harvard graduates,” supposedly an impossibility. I had to read that passage over again and again to understand it, so great was the cognitive dissonance. President Obama’s inner circle does consist of his fellow Harvard graduates; encouraging Obama to appoint such people and documenting their adventures in government has been a pundit obsession for years. Applauding Bill Clinton for doing the same with his Rhodes Scholar and Yale Law friends was also once a standard journalistic trope.
And now, here it comes again. David Brooks, trying to see a way out of the “national ruin” that hovers over us, turns back to the foundational story of how our best and brightest rose to the challenge at the turn of the last century:
New sorts of political leaders emerged. In city after city, progressive reformers cleaned up politics and professionalized the civil service. Theodore Roosevelt went into elective politics at a time when few Ivy League types thought it was decent to do so.
Would it change Brooks’s mind to show him one of his own columns praising the man who now presides over our drift to “national ruin” for doing exactly what Brooks here suggests – ie, bringing many Ivy League types into politics with him? I doubt it, any more than it would be to ask Obama himself to take the problem of stagnant blue-collar wages into consideration before declaring, yet again, his admiration for the deeds of the global entrepreneuriat.
It’s easy to see the problems presented by a cliquish elite when they happen elsewhere. In the countries of Old Europe, maybe, powerful politicians sell out grotesquely to Goldman Sachs; but when an idealistic American president announces that he wants to seek a career in venture capital, we have trouble saying much of anything. In Britain, maybe, they have an “establishment”; but what we have in America, we think, are talented people who deserve to be on top. One wonders what kind of a shock it will take to shake us out of this meritocratic complacency once and for all.