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Kavanaugh & The Elites’ Civil War

America's ruling class throws a temper tantrum (Fox News screengrab)

Ross Douthat, who graduated from Harvard, has an interesting column up this morning about the Kavanaugh fight as a civil war among America’s Ivy-covered elites. 

His basic point is that everybody involved in the Kavanaugh fight is privileged in a way that sets them far apart from most Americans.

And with that question you’ve struck to the heart of the whole meritocratic game, which depends on a reproduction of privilege that pretends to be something else, something fair and open and all about hard work and just deserts. In this game the people whose privilege is particularly obvious, the boarding schoolers and New York toffs and Bethesda country clubbers, play a crucially important role. It’s not just that their parents pay full freight and keep the economics of tuition viable for everyone. It’s that the eliter-than-elite kids themselves help create a provisional inside-the-Ivy hierarchy that lets all the other privileged kids, the ones who are merely upper-upper middle class, feel the spur of resentment and ambition that keeps us running, keeps us competing, keeps us sharp and awful in all the ways that meritocracy requires.

Douthat goes on to talk about how a Yale alumnus who wrote an unflattering profile of Kavanaugh as a Yale student herself was a child of prep school privilege, as were her main sources. More:

But people also need to recognize that the “profile” we’re being given of Kavanaugh — a creature of privilege who drank a lot in college and sometimes struck other people as a jerk — isn’t the narrow profile of a rapist, and isn’t even the somewhat more expansive profile of a particular kind of arrogant preppy. It’s a profile that fits many of the same people attacking him today — and so part of what we’re watching is one group of meritocrats returning to their undergraduate resentments and trying to pin on Georgetown Prep graduates the vices that define our entire depressing class.

Tl;dr: most of the people attacking Kavanaugh for his “privilege,” and the way he may have behaved in college, are hypocrites. Read the whole thing. 

Here’s an example from the San Francisco TV station KGO:

She didn’t even know him, but she’s against him, alright, and went on TV as a Yale Law graduate to assert that authority against Kavanaugh.

If you work around American elites, you’ll learn to pick up on a particular kind of phony white person: the person whose guilt over their own privilege displaces itself by manifesting itself as do-gooderism at the expense of others, but never themselves. The political consultant Matthew Dowd, in his latest ABC News column, is a good example. Take a look at these excerpts:

Instead of waiting for the diverse population of America to keep pushing and prodding, I would humbly suggest that we as white male Christians take it upon ourselves to step back and give more people who don’t look like us access to the levers of power.

We don’t have to wait, and our country is in desperate need of more diverse leaders. It is that diverse leadership which will not only represent more of what America looks like today, but it will give us the opportunity to find solutions which homogenous models of leadership aren’t able to.

So: did Matthew Dowd resign his post as ABC News’s political analyst after writing this, to make way for a person of color? Of course not. If he really believed what he is saying here — and wasn’t simply virtue-signaling — he would have tendered his resignation, and in his letter to his supervisors urged them to hire a person of color in his place. Dowd didn’t do this because he expects other white men to lose their jobs, or to be denied opportunities, but not from himself. Funny how the kind of white people who push for what they consider to be “social justice” exclude themselves, and their own position and privileges, from the verdict and sentence.

Now, Matthew Dowd was not Ivy-educated, though he has evidently absorbed the prejudices of his professional and social class. His column, and the sociological phenomenon Douthat identifies in his piece today, explain why I get especially hot when I see, for example, Yale students boycotting classes, and so forth, to protest Evil Yalie Brett Kavanaugh. I think this has very little to do with Kavanaugh himself, and almost everything to do with the kinds of social resentments that are most prominent in high school and college. What is fascinating is how the people who hold the most privilege in this country fall all over themselves to assert solidarity with the people who are, in the hierarchy of the progressive left, victims of society.

You think any of those white Yale Law students taking to the barricades to stop Evil Yalie Brett Kavanaugh plan to drop out and give up their slot at Yale Law to a person of color? You think any of them, in the future, will insist that their kids apply only to Big State U. so as not to deny a slot at an Ivy League college to “one of the most vulnerable”? Please.

Do you think that Yale Law students who are people of color have the slightest recognition of their own extraordinary cultural privilege — which is quickly going to translate to economic privilege after graduation — relative to the overwhelming majority of Americans, including white Americans? Please.

I don’t think that Brett Kavanaugh is a Man Of The People, and I don’t care. Nobody who makes it to the US Supreme Court is ever going to be a Man Of The People, given the nature of the job. We shouldn’t want that, anyway. We should want men and women who have demonstrated an extraordinary mastery of the law, and who have good character (and “good character” is not assessed solely by how they behaved, or might have behaved, in high school and college).

I don’t think for one second that the Ivy League elites who are trying to knock off Kavanaugh’s nomination really care about his alcohol habits in college. They’re just throwing everything they can think of at him to see if anything sticks, and takes him down. For whatever reason, the “white male” has become a hate fetish among American elites. Kavanaugh — an elite white male — has become the scapegoat for other white elites, who project onto him their own anxieties about being power-holders within a worldview that considers them guilty by virtue of their own race (and, for some, their sex). If they can offload that guilt onto Kavanaugh, then they will restore their sense of order within their culture, and will have proved that Kavanaugh was a threat to the communal peace. In this way these white elites will have preserved their own privilege within the system, at the mere cost of destroying the ambitions and reputation of an innocent man.

What they don’t understand is that the same scapegoat mechanism that identifies the Republican Kavanaugh as guilty by virtue of his race and sex is eventually going to be turned on them too, despite their having demonstrated their liberal allyship. The revolution will eat its own. As Maximilian Robespierre, the original Social Justice Warrior, declared, “Terror is only justice prompt, severe and inflexible; it is then an emanation of virtue.”

I hope that the next Supreme Court nominee will not have graduated from an Ivy League law school. The nation could do without the resentments and anxieties of these neurotic people poisoning the well of public discourse.

You know who I’d like to hear from on this question? Yale Law graduate J.D. Vance.

UPDATE: Here is the latest  comment from Matt in VA, who really needs his own blog:

There are probably five or six major things that really shaped where I ended up politically today, and my experience as a class outsider in college at an Ivy was definitely one of those things.

I didn’t grow up poor. No experience with welfare or going hungry or not knowing where I would be sleeping or having to wear only ill-fitting hand-me-downs. I grew up middle class, in a house. Both my parents have bachelor’s degrees. I’m from rural New England–not too, too far from Yale, actually! Went to public school.

But when I started college at an Ivy League school, I very quickly discovered that I was in the bottom 10-15% of my peers in terms of family wealth and income. How do I know this? Well, I was eligible for work-study, and I got a job in the financial aid and work-study eligibility office, and had access to the guidelines determining eligibility as well as who was eligible. I had been given the maximum amount of grants by my school, from its (flush) coffers, as well as the maximum amount of work-study eligibility (work-study is a program for students in which your family’s financial resources determines how much money you can earn; the money comes from the government, not from the school itself).

Of course, I also had my own eyes and ears to tell me where my upbringing and background put me, compared to the other students. It was *very* easy to pick up on the fact that not only were a huge percentage of the other freshmen Exeter and Andover and Harvard-Westlake grads, etc., but that even the ones who had gone to public school all seemed to have gone to places like Greenwich High School or Mountain View High School. And seemingly *everybody’s* parents had gone to Ivies or Stanford or Berkeley or Chicago. People know about the Ivies and legacy admits, but an absolutely huge portion of those who aren’t legacies are only not legacies because they went to Princeton while their father went to Brown, or something like that.

I was constantly meeting people who were descended from or related to influential figures. I had class with somebody whose ancestor, with whom he shared a last name, is the name of one of the main bridges crossing the Hudson between NYC and Albany; I had a different class with (someone who is now) Bill Kristol’s son-in-law; I lived down the hall from someone who is now a leading reporter with CNN (and who I remember snorting coke using $100 bills — literally — at a freshman year party); my best friend at college had class with a Vanderbilt (it was a class where they read Marx!) And these were the big deal people… the “normal” “typical” students were those who merely had two or three different family friends who wrote for the New York Times or Washington Post.

One almost never met students who didn’t at least have one parent who was a lawyer, doctor, journalist, or Wall Street banker. But because one not infrequently met students who were the children of millionaires and multimillionaires, most of my peers didn’t see themselves as rich.

One of my friends in particular — he was the son of a Harvard professor father (his mother was also a professor, at a different Boston area school), and he grew up in a Cambridge townhouse which I saw when visiting the city — it was very, very nice — and he went to a Boston-area prep school that sent at least 2 other students, that year, besides him, to the same Ivy… and he was a leftist who *constantly* talked about the rich and the privileged and who had no sense whatsoever that he might be referring to himself. Later, after college, he was hugely involved in Occupy Wall Street. He is a very passionate person who I promise you would *never* be able to understand or comprehend the idea that he himself is, well, upper-class, and he would never “step aside” to let a poor person of color have his spot in anything.

These people don’t see themselves clearly. One of the things they *really* don’t understand is how they have a tremendous advantage over others simply due to the *connections* that they have. For example, plenty of journalists don’t make that much money. But journalism is an arena with lots of *influence* and just about everything is *who you know*. Who can you reach out to to get a quote? Who can put your name in front of the right person? Who can call in a favor for you if you’re trying to break in to the field? Journalism is of course famously nepotistic. Well, it was amazing to me to see how my peers seemingly all knew people in journalism already — they all had family friends who could pull them into the business if that’s what they wanted to do. And it might mean low or even no pay for a while while they worked their way up, but they *knew* they had family resources they could fall back on. There was no question that if they needed Mom and Dad to subsidize NYC rent for a year while they built their resume of placed articles, or cut their teeth at Good Morning America or whatever, they could. And since they themselves weren’t making big money yet, they saw themselves as poor. They really did! There was a similar phenomenon with the $/finance types — they know people worth $50 million, so they think that if they come from families worth $1-2 million they’re middle-class.

Ross Douthat himself is a great example of this mentality. He is somewhat self-aware in the column you are quoting here, Mr. Dreher. But I read Douthat’s first book, about his time at Harvard. And in that book, he, the great-grandson of a Connecticut governor, the son of a Stanford-educated parent and a Yale-educated parent, the graduate of a Connecticut elite private school, a “lowly commoner.” With no sense of irony! One cannot stress enough how little these people understand that there is a vast world of difference between the gradations in their social spheres and the rest of the country. Even if they might get it at some level, they don’t really feel it.

It was really something for me to see so many students/college peers whose politics and aesthetics was leftist/anti-establishment/F*** the System move seamlessly after graduation into spots on Wall Street, or with the most legacy media companies, or into “consulting.” Though some didn’t do that; some sort of coasted on their parents’ money for a while longer.

The students in college who came from families with a similar amount of or less wealth than mine were nearly 100% children of immigrants, mostly from Asia. There were, to be fair, quite a substantial number of such students, probably one out of ten of the student body as as whole. But I generally didn’t have too much in common with this type of student. They were usually from places like Queens; a fair number of them were total grinds.

There were basically zero poor or lower-middle-class whites. White Baptists or white evangelical Christians — forget it. When you compare the student body statistics at my college to the statistics for the general American population, white Christians were significantly more underrepresented than blacks, Hispanics, or Asians (Asians were, of course, overrepresented).

Lots and lots of the black students were either a) immigrants or children of immigrants, certainly not descendants of American slaves or b) black Exeter or Andover grads–i.e. plenty rich themselves. And a *huge* percentage of the “Hispanic” population was lily-white (skin lighter than mine) Latin-American-Overclass immmigrants or children of immigrants, like the guy who dated my best friend freshman year, who had checked “Hispanic” on the application (he confessed to her one night) because his mother was the daughter of an Argentinian diplomat. This guy was every bit as white as me, didn’t speak Spanish, private school K-12 in D.C.

Anyway. To be fair. I really did have bad, middle-class ugly-American taste in a lot of things, and the nudges and guidance my college peers gave me on certain aesthetic matters really was good. I *was* unsophisticated; I *did* need to be steered better. And I think it’s probably inevitable for a society to have its lawyer/doctor/priest (=media figure, today) classes, and for the institutions that produce the major figures in these classes to be mostly made up of the children of these classes. I also have a soft spot for my alma mater because it is still committed to a liberal arts education in a way so, so few universities or colleges these days are.

But yes, the constant assertions from all these rich brats that they are on the side of the powerless — it’s like that quote about how the purpose of political propaganda is not to convince, but to humiliate, by compelling you to assent to the most obvious untruths. And the idea that heavy drinking in high school and college is beyond the pale to these people — well, my experience was that nearly everybody drank, and I mean a lot, and quite a lot of people did drugs, too. These are people who had the money and power to make many/most problems go away. The roadblocks to drug use that society puts up to ensnare or punish people for drug use simply weren’t a reality to these students.

I’m not even sure I like or dislike people of this class more than I like or dislike anybody else. But they determine, more than anyone else, the political rhetoric in this country, and they do not know themselves, do *not* represent the powerless, and “the system” as it exists today is their system, which they were born into and which they move into and populate as adults.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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