I don’t mean hope in the same way the Obama campaign did. Ian Welsh writes an incredibly powerful post about the personal politics of hopelessness–you should read the whole thing (it’s arguably one of the best posts of the year). But this little section struck me:
The US now has the least intergenerational social mobility in the Western world (it used to have the most). The elites have become self-perpetuating, and they never had to stare in a mirror and know that they may never have more than minimum wage job; that probably this is as good as it gets….
That existence, hand to mouth, with no hope, is something America’s elites have never experienced and don’t understand. For them there’s always another opportunity, always another chance: always hope. And what matters to them is when the “deserving”, which is to say, their own class, is in trouble. So they’ll bail out the financial sector, even though it hasn’t made any more profit than the Big 3 in the past 8 years, and unlike the financial sector, didn’t bring down the world economy, but they won’t help out the undeserving whom they don’t understand….
The elites don’t live in the same world as ordinary people. They have become completely disconnected from that world. This is entirely logical on their part, because for 30 years they’ve gotten rich, rich, rich at the same time as ordinary people haven’t had a single raise. When you’re sitting on the top it’s very clear that all boats don’t need to be lifted and that Americans aren’t all in it together. The elites have done just fine, for over 30 years, while the rest of society went to hell.
So there’s no empathy born of shared experience, of the knowledge that sometimes life sucks and no matter what you do, it’s going to suck, and that that’s the way many people live.
I think what finally did the Bush Administration in is that they couldn’t get any ‘do overs.’ They had one shot at Tora Bora–and failed. One chance to get Katrina right (or at least better), and failed. They invaded the wrong fucking country, and failed. And no phone call, no name in the rolodex, no family fixer can fix these things. This might well have been the first time in their lives for many in the Bush Administration that there was no way to wiggle out of things.
At the risk of engaging in Compulsive Centrist Disorder, this isn’t confined to Republicans*. A couple of former Clinton officials want it both ways too: they want to be viewed as disinterested public servants, while at the same time, they get to cash in. A sane society would recognize that certain choices close off other options, which is a far better situation than exists for too many which is no options at all. In short, you can’t always have it all (which sadly is news to some).
*Having attended and taught at the finishing schools for the elite, I think this is a function of education going tragically wrong:
I didn’t understand this until I began comparing my experience, and even more, my students’ experience, with the experience of a friend of mine who went to Cleveland State. There are due dates and attendance requirements at places like Yale, but no one takes them very seriously. Extensions are available for the asking; threats to deduct credit for missed classes are rarely, if ever, carried out. In other words, students at places like Yale get an endless string of second chances. Not so at places like Cleveland State. My friend once got a D in a class in which she’d been running an A because she was coming off a waitressing shift and had to hand in her term paper an hour late.
That may be an extreme example, but it is unthinkable at an elite school. Just as unthinkably, she had no one to appeal to. Students at places like Cleveland State, unlike those at places like Yale, don’t have a platoon of advisers and tutors and deans to write out excuses for late work, give them extra help when they need it, pick them up when they fall down. They get their education wholesale, from an indifferent bureaucracy; it’s not handed to them in individually wrapped packages by smiling clerks. There are few, if any, opportunities for the kind of contacts I saw my students get routinely–classes with visiting power brokers, dinners with foreign dignitaries….
In short, the way students are treated in college trains them for the social position they will occupy once they get out. At schools like Cleveland State, they’re being trained for positions somewhere in the middle of the class system, in the depths of one bureaucracy or another. They’re being conditioned for lives with few second chances, no extensions, little support, narrow opportunity–lives of subordination, supervision, and control, lives of deadlines, not guidelines. At places like Yale, of course, it’s the reverse.
A rare exception to the rule makes the point. In a course for which I was a teaching assistant, a student asked the professor if he could miss a lab section to have a small, personal lunch with the King of Jordan–missing the section would have lowered the grade to a B+. The professor responded, “His Highness is welcome to attend section, but you are required to be here.” The student looked absolutely dumbstruck, and the professor then added, “Go to lunch you idiot. How many people will ever have the chance to have lunch with the King Jordan? It’s worth the grade.” The most important lesson, I think, from this is that you can’t always have it all.