Everyone is talking about the Chris Hayes piece “Twilight of the Elites”. I agree it’s a must-read (and I try never to use that phrase):
In the past decade, nearly every pillar institution in American society — whether it’s General Motors, Congress, Wall Street, Major League Baseball, the Catholic Church or the mainstream media — has revealed itself to be corrupt, incompetent or both. And at the root of these failures are the people who run these institutions, the bright and industrious minds who occupy the commanding heights of our meritocratic order. In exchange for their power, status and remuneration, they are supposed to make sure everything operates smoothly. But after a cascade of scandals and catastrophes, that implicit social contract lies in ruins, replaced by mass skepticism, contempt and disillusionment.[….]
For more than 35 years, Gallup has polled Americans about levels of trust in their institutions — Congress, banks, Big Business, public schools, etc. In 2008 nearly every single institution was at an all-time low. Banks were trusted by just 32% of the populace, down from more than 50% in 2004. Newspapers were down to 24%, from slightly below 40% at the start of the decade. And Congress was the least trusted institution of all, with only 12% of Americans expressing confidence in it.
The whole piece is worth reading.
But I wonder, since polling data only goes back 30 or 40 years at the most, how much this says about today’s supposed cynicism and how much it says about the gullibility of the post-war years. I don’t know what American railroad workers and dust bowl farmers really thought about early 20th century elites anymore than I know what European cathedral-builders really thought about the Catholic Church.
I also wonder if cynicism about today’s elites is caused by actual increases in elite corruption and incompetence or by technological changes that make the already existing corruption and incompetence more obvious. I’m willing to admit that today’s elites may be more nakedly careerist than the elites of yesteryear. But maybe that’s because yesteryear’s elites were more confident, that no hungry generations tread them down: Louis Mayer wasn’t worried about being bought and sold by a private equity firm, Walter Cronkite wasn’t afraid he’d be replaced by Luke Russert. For all I know, Walter Cronkite would have sucked up to the BIrchers if he’d he felt real ratings pressure.
Generally, when it comes to the powerful screwing over the masses, I doubt there is much new under the sun.
The book How the Other Half Lives revealed the horrible conditions 19th century immigrants lived in. It wasn’t that conditions had gotten worse, but that the new medium of photojournalism made it harder for the world to ignore. I tend to think the same thing is going on now with the internet.
Of course, Bobo would have us believe that this is bad, that “too much transparency” has made the peasants too aware of the failings of their social superiors. That’s why he’s a conservative and I’m a hippie.