Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Membership In The American Ruling Class Means Never Having To Audition, Campaign, Or Fundraise

NYTimes  |  America’s most powerful people have a problem. They can’t admit that they’re powerful.

Take Andrew Cuomo. On a recent call with reporters, the embattled Mr. Cuomo insisted that he was “not part of the political club.” The assertion was confounding because Mr. Cuomo is in his third term as governor of New York — a position his father also held for three terms. Mr. Cuomo has also served as state attorney general and as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Or think of Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence. After her appointment was announced, Ms. Haines declared, “I have never shied away from speaking truth to power.” That is a curious way of describing a meteoric career that includes stints at exclusive universities, a prestigious judicial clerkship and important jobs in foreign policy and intelligence before her appointment to a cabinet-level office overseeing a budget of more than $60 billion.

This sort of false advertising isn’t limited to Democrats. Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, for instance, has embraced an image as a populist crusader against a distant “political class.” He does not emphasize his father’s career as a banker, his studies at Stanford and Yale Law School, or his work as clerk to prominent judges, including Chief Justice John Roberts. The merits of Mr. Hawley’s positions are open to debate. But his membership in the same elite that he rails against is not.

And it’s not only politicians. Business figures love to present themselves as “disrupters” of stagnant industries. But the origins of the idea are anything but rebellious. Popularized by a Harvard professor and promoted by a veritable industry of consultants, it has been embraced by some of the richest and most highly credentialed people in the world.

Examples could be multiplied, but these cases are enough to show that the problem of insiders pretending to be outsiders cuts across party, gender and field. The question is why.

Part of the explanation is strategic. An outsider pose is appealing because it allows powerful people to distance themselves from the consequences of their decisions. When things go well, they are happy to take credit. When they go badly, it’s useful to blame an incompetent, hostile establishment for thwarting their good intentions or visionary plans.