Initial Thoughts on America and Its Elites, Cont'd

by Conor Friedersdorf

Omar writes:

...your average Muslim American, objectively speaking, is simply not going to view the free, unqualified exercise of their religion as some sort frolicsome elitist conceit far removed from the rights and privileges commonly enjoyed by their neighbors and colleagues of other faiths.  Whether you’re an immigrant Pakistani cab driver living in Queens, or an Egyptian-American MBA holder dwelling in the West Village, you’re simply not going to view the building of a mosque anywhere as some sort of cosmopolitanizing act of defiance against the confessional status quo of this country, but rather as an integrative act of engagement with that right.  Most Muslims in this country have not been compelled to be viewed their religious identity in such cosmopolitanizing terms until now.

In this debate, we are unconcerned with coastal elites because, even here on the coasts, there is nothing particularly elite about most of us anyway.  This debate has really brought to the fore the depth of antipathy that lies beneath the surface.  Time and time again, I hear tell that this is simply a “matter of respect”, but implicit in this statement is the firm belief that a different (much lower and more flimsy) standard of respect must be accorded Muslims because of 9/11.  It has been painful , watching pretty much the entirety of red America, and a good part of the blue, turn on you so summarily and on such a specious basis.  It shouldn’t be about elites.  It just shouldn’t. 

Josh writes:

I grew up in a working class neighborhood, went to an Ivy League school, went into politics, became incredibly disillusioned, and am now raising a family and following politics only as a hobby.  Other than a great education and nice salary, I don’t consider myself part of an “elite”, and I don’t think anyone else would consider me part of any elite (unless income were the only criteria) because outside of my immediate friends and family my thoughts and ideas have no impact on anyone.  Nonetheless, I feel exactly like your business student in terms of not feeling represented by the “elites”.  The right is dominated by a media machine that preys upon people’s fears and ignorance to increase or maintain its ratings.  The left is dominated by a bunch of baby boomers with calcified opinions and they are just as happy as the right to use these false conflicts to gin up support.  Those in power enjoy this racket because it keeps all of them in their positions – shame on all of us who don’t simply ignore all of them and hold them to account for all of the times they’ve been wrong, or created false conflicts simply to increase fundraising or ratings. 

Despite our “elites” failing in every area of importance – politics, banking, media etc. – there is no accountability for these rank failures.  My lack of enthusiasm for Obama is based on the fact that I, and others of my (Gen X) generation, was really hoping Obama would break through all of this and “say goodbye to all that”, but instead he sort of fed into the worst aspects of our failed elite institutions and has enabled them to remain in power despite their objective failures.  He, like Elena Kagan, seems a little too taken with the elites of our society.