Elites. Left and right both invoke the idea of “elites” as those who need to be resisted in the name of the average dude. Bernie Sanders rails against elites. Jeremy Corbin rails against elites. But Donald Trump and Nigel Farage rail against elites too. Are they talking about the same people or do left and right have very different ideas on who constitutes the “elite”?
Who are these “elites”? Are you one of them? What power do they have? How did they get this power? Should we take this power away from them? And if so, how?
“Elite” is the buzzword of political disparagement at the moment. So I think it’s worth exploring the differing notions of who constitutes “the elite”.
Interesting article on this topic that could form basis of discussion Link
George Clooney - “I grew up in Kentucky. I sold insurance door to door. I sold ladies’ shoes. I worked at an all-night liquor store. I would buy suits that were too big and too long and cut the bottom of the pants off to make ties so I’d have a tie to go on job interviews. The idea that I’m somehow the ‘Hollywood elite’ and this guy who takes a shit in a gold toilet is somehow the man of the people is laughable.”
Elsewhere online I have been accused of being part of the “metropolitan elite”. It was a discussion about Brexit specifically. But when I revealed that I lived in London, had a job in IT and was vaguely left leaning politically I was effectively shot down as unknowing of the issues faced by the “common man” because I was so far removed from their experience by my apparently illustriously detached situation.
I have never thought of myself as “elite” and it came as quite a shock to learn that others, those on the political right it seems, classed me as such.
I think those on the left and those on the right are talking almost different languages on this topic. To me Trump (for example) is so patently, clearly and demonstrably part of the “elite” that it’s undeniable hypocrisy on his part to be railing against the “elites” in the way that he does. But to his supporters (and presumably to him) the fact he is an inherited millionaire who has spent his entire life in the presence of wealth and power has nothing to do with his “elite-ness”. Instead it’s something about his cultural references. A poorly paid academic who lives in New York and enjoys opera would be the subject of “metropolitan elite” ire, whilst Donald Trump is lauded as in touch with the common man because he cites cheeseburgers as his favourite meal (or whatever).
It’s the different criteria being applied that I’m interested in here.
Yet it seems to work. Watch any of the populist leaders of the moment condemning the elites and their followers seem to have an emotional, even if not a definitional, understanding of who they are railing against. And that’s the key I guess. We all have a feeling for who we mean by the “elite”. But there is a clear difference between the use of the term between left and right.
Donald Trump seems to be a classic example of a member of the elite in so many ways yet his followers look at him as someone who somehow shares their cultural values. Watching Fox news, eating cheeseburgers and having disdain for journalists, academics, politicians and experts seems to resonate with his supporters in such a way that his obvious financial “elitism” can be effectively ignored. He’s one of “us” in a way that seems to matter more than his obvious gold plated lifestyle.
In relative terms I’d say George Clooney has more claim to be a ‘man of the people’ than Donald Trump does. Past experience has to count for something when compared to someone who has neither past nor present experience of ordinary life.