If you follow the latest social media shit-storms at all, you may have heard of journalist Josh Barro. Recently, Barro joined the Legions of Infamy by chiding McDonald's for an anti-Trump tweet because, as everyone knows, "fat slobs with bad taste" are a key Trump-supporting demographic. That glob of condescending spittle was bad enough, but the tweet above - which I stole from Chris Arnade's glorious take-down of Barro's snobbery - is the statement that really made me see red. Why? Because Barro, like many mal-educated mid-wits, is misusing genuine sociological data to peddle a dangerous lie.
So let's break down everything that is wrong with this sentiment, shall we?
Good Private Judgment Does Not Automatically Lead to Good Public Leadership
It is in fact true that in highly-credentialed, high-income districts, we see better lifestyles. People in these zips are more likely to work out and eat right, for one. It is also true that in said top-performing zips, people are more careful with their money, are more likely to be involved in community organizations, are more likely to prioritize education while raising their children, and are more likely to live in healthy, two-parent households - all prudent, pro-social, and (dare I say) bourgeois choices that increase your and your children's chances of being upwardly mobile. (For more discussion regarding this data, I suggest the recent work of Charles Murray, particularly Coming Apart.)
So do many of our elites in some sense "deserve" to be doing well? Sure -- but this does not mean they "deserve" to lord over the rest of us. Because here's the funny thing: They are doing all the right things, but they refuse to promote their bourgeois living as a national ideal. In other words, they don't preach what they practice. They may be living in stable families, sticking to household budgets, investing their money wisely in retirement accounts, and telling Johnny that yes, his homework is his first priority, but when they write their national columns or appear on national television, their message is always that family structure doesn't matter, that dysfunctional underclass sub-cultures are all "delightfully subversive," and that expecting people to prioritize when it comes to budgets both governmental and personal is inhumane and anti-poor.
Bottom line? The elites have proven themselves to be completely incapable of uplifting folks at the bottom of the class pyramid, so I don't particularly care that they make good decisions when it comes to their personal lives. Honestly, sometimes I suspect that they're just trying to pull the ladder up behind them so they don't have to compete with us, the unwashed; it's more likely, though, that their vaunted education has let them down.
Having a College Degree - Even a PhD - Is NOT the Same Thing as Being "Educated"
Once upon a time, a college education at least tried to expose you to the very best that has been thought and said about the human condition and our place in the universe. It can be argued - validly - that the former "canon" was in some respects too narrow, but it was still good that there were campus-wide standards and that every collegian was expected to meet them. Unfortunately, after the rise of the New Left, all the trappings of just this sort of liberal education were thrown right out the window. Granted, many colleges still have general education requirements, but even with these, one can still earn a bachelor's without ever taking a traditional course on our country's history, political structures, or literary heritage.
Now let's add on top of this the fact that, in recent decades, academia has grown ever more intolerant of dissenting opinion (to the point that students and professors are now demanding they be shielded from ideas and experiences they find even remotely upsetting) and what you get is a perfect storm of ignorance about the things that really matter when it comes to good leadership. Our elites basically know fuck-all about human nature and have no clue that their supposedly brilliant, forward-thinking, progressive ideas have often been tried before without success (and to be sure, I'm putting that very charitably).
Actually, the increasing political correctness of our universities (and all other spaces where our elites congregate) is a good example of just what I mean when I say that folks like Barro know jack about - well - people. People, in reality, are anti-fragile; by this, I mean that they thrive best when their lives are not without adversity. Young people especially need the opportunity to test their physical and cognitive limits, bump up against obstacles, and - both literally and metaphorically - hang upside down on the monkey-bars hands-free. But our elites have decided that risk of emotional and bodily injury must be stamped out completely -- and predictably, the people under their oh-so-compassionate charge have now been trained to be, essentially, mentally ill. Indeed, even among our young children, we're seeing a rise in the incidence of attention-deficit disorder, sensory integration disorder, and other maladies -- and at least one occupational therapist has argued convincingly that this is because our elites are micromanaging our children's play in the name of their great safety crusade.
And hell, I haven't even addressed the fact that not all degrees are created equal and that, in many fields, all that's required to earn a credential is the ability to sling bull with panache. The rot is so widespread in the humanities and the social sciences in particular that a lot of students in these concentrations who have real native talent have no chance to develop and hone their intellects. Why? Well, here's something else the elites don't understand about human nature: people may be anti-fragile, but many will choose the easy path if it's offered to them. If one can earn a degree and the associated social status that comes with it by skating through courses that require little effort or accountability, many students will embrace that option -- and among our elites, many people have. Ask me what it was like to be misrepresented by lazy journalists covering the pop-culture beat for more information.
One last point: The shadow curriculum of lower and higher education isn't just - or even mostly - about using your intellect to suss out the truth. There are fields of study out there - generally in the hard sciences - that do demand results, but as a teacher with over a decade of experience guiding students through the K-12 system and beyond, I also know there are numerous wholly non-academic expectations that stick to our educational enterprise like barnacles on a ship. Based on what's usually asked in a college admissions essay, our schools privilege sociable youngsters who are comfortable talking about themselves. They also privilege the obedient and the verbally adept. Not that there's anything necessarily wrong with any of these traits (I've been identified as verbally adept myself - at least in writing), but this weeding process does overlook many legitimately brilliant Odds -- especially my rambunctious, scribbly boys.
TL;DR: You're going to have to do more to convince me of your fitness to lead the rest of us than to reference your "college education."
But even if you were a freakin' Einstein, with all the tangible intellectual achievements that entails, I'm still not going to grant you the licence to judge me or to control my life. Which brings me to my third and final point:
You and Your Exclusive Clique Are Not Smarter Than EVERYONE Else
Remember that episode of The Simpsons years back in which the brainy folks of Springfield took control and tried to make their town more functional and efficient? Remember how this ended in disaster? I loved that episode because it conveyed a very important truth: Even a group of very, very smart people don't - and can't - know everything about a phenomenon as complex and unwieldy as a human culture or a human economy. That's why the outcomes of state economic planning range from stupid to downright horrific (see also: Venezuela). That's why, post-Sexual Revolution, we're faced with widespread unhappiness among women and equally widespread social pathology.
Society is weird. There are many rules, traditions, and institutions lying around that, on the surface, don't seem to make sense. But those rules, traditions, and institutions cropped up for a reason. In many cases, they solved real dilemmas that our human ancestors encountered on their evolutionary journey out of the savanna. For instance, every culture previous to ours had strict codes to govern sexual conduct because, among other things, that was the only way to ensure that responsibility for the consequent children could be established. And, no matter how gosh-darned exceptional you are, you can't just take those codes apart without understanding and solving the problems they were meant to address.
So Barro and his ilk might be smarter than one working-class Trump supporter -- but are they smarter than all the Trump supporters and all the generations who lived before us combined? Not a chance!
But, obviously, they think that they are -- and that's why many ordinary Americans rightfully hate their guts.