Political Animal


June 16, 2012 1:03 PM Learning You’re Not Elite

By Randolph Brickey

Jesse Singal has a nice review of Chris Hayes’ new book, Twilight of the Elites. In it, the author takes on the uncomfortable but essential task of confronting America’s increasingly desperate faith in the just world fallacy.

From his study of Hayes’ book, Singal writes that “those near the middle are only just now seeing just how bad a deal they are in for, just how severely their futures have been compromised for the benefit of a tiny sliver at the top.”

If you ever want to see a middle-class person learn first hand and immediately that he or she is not actually an elite, attend an arraignment docket down at the county courthouse and watch defendants brought up on misdemeanors. The poor defendants already know what to expect. They’ve lived discrimination and they might qualify for the public defender. So they look bored and tired. They’re not afraid of because they have no expectations.

But the middle-class defendants will be absolutely bewildered and visibly terrified. They have no idea what they’re in for. And the only things they’ve ever heard or known about our criminal justice system are that it’s horrible, and that it’s for Other People. Watch them up shaking as they struggle to keep up with that judge reciting from the state criminal code. That’s when a lot of people realize they aren’t elites. That’s when they learn they’re Other People too.

Randolph Brickey is an attorney in solo practice in Northern Virginia.


  • c u n d gulag on June 16, 2012 1:45 PM:

    Nice way to explain it, Randolph!

    Still, too many people think they'll win Powerball.

    Or that merely standing in the shadow of the rich and powerful, means that they also be protected from the elements by them, as if that shadow was an umbrella.

    Hey, FECKIN' IDJITS - The minute the rich are done with you, they'll discard you faster than the rubber they used to protect themselves while they raped the crack 'ho, just to add to her misery - and then left a penny as payment for services rendered.

    Only morons don't realize that in this world - we are ALL of the rest of us - the 99%!

  • stevio on June 16, 2012 2:10 PM:

    hey, C u n d gulag...


  • c u n d gulag on June 16, 2012 2:14 PM:

    Thank you.
    I stand corrected!

  • Mimikatz on June 16, 2012 3:32 PM:

    And thanks c u n d gulag for explaining your name yesterday. I'm probably just slow to figure things out ( though I did get Hedda right away) or maybe just missed it. But it is one more mystery cleared ip.

  • c u n d gulag on June 16, 2012 3:51 PM:

    In all fairness, my moniker ISN'T obvious, but rather obtuse, so don't blame yourself - I get that all the time.

    It's kind of like one of those car vanity license plates - I'm relatively bright, but sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I just don't get it.

  • Jimo on June 16, 2012 4:25 PM:

    I think the average middle-class person learns that they aren't part of the elite when, for the one time in their life, they really need 'the system' to come through for them and it doesn't.

    "What do you mean I'll be lucky to get 3 to 7 for my little indiscretion when Angelo Mazilo, CEO of Countrywide (and named "one of the worst CEOs in history), destroys his company, is a key player in the economic crisis, commits felonies such as fraud and inside trading, yet walks away with more than half a billion dollars in loot?!?"

  • Citizen Alan on June 16, 2012 5:53 PM:

    I am reminded of the famous poll result from ten or so years ago reflecting that 20% of Americans believed themselves to be in the top 5% and another 20% knew that they weren't but believed they were close enough to make it before they retired. This is also why I get so angry when Republicans say that "blacks are living on the Democratic plantation" because it obscures the real truth that the GOP wants to conceal -- that it is actually poor whites who trap themselves on the Republican plantation. After all, what is a Tea Party supporter except a house slave who thinks he's better than all the field slaves because the plantation owner pats him on the head and promises that neither he nor his family will ever be beaten or sold off?

  • Kathryn on June 16, 2012 8:31 PM:

    Too true, Citizen Alan, how they do delude themselves, I give you West Virginia. No grief please, the state of my grandparents and Mother, a beautiful place, but desperately insular. After reading recently about a Pentecostal minister and snake handler's death from the bite of a rattlesnake, I am saddened by the strength of beliefs that would allow such a waste and wonder how different such events in this country are from tribal customs of Afghanistan and other tribal societies. None of these people, either West Virginians or Afghanis are stupid people but their traditions are as deadly as they are ingrained,

  • James M on June 16, 2012 8:56 PM:

    This is not only a U.S. phenomenon. For example, income disparities and widening social stratification have become major issues in Japan. However, until recently, in surveys it was routine for nearly 80% of Japanese people to identify themselves as part of the middle class!These people felt that way because they had secure employment/incomes and could afford to buy homes and raise families and they had faith in the pension system. Of course, the foundations of all of these have now been shaken.

    Another common mistake people make is to overestimate their competitve value in the economy. Most people, unaware of the 80/20 rule (In a typical organization, 80% of the sales, profits, etc., can be attributed to 20 of the employees.) and think they are more valuable than they are.

    I book I read gave a hypothetical example of 100 salespersons in a company, ranked by sales. If you ask them, "How valuable are you to your company?" almost all of the salespersons ranked in the top 50 will rate themselves as highly valuable. However, as far as the company management is concerned, only the top 10 salespersons (and perhaps down to the 15th or 20th rank in some cases) are considered to be top contributors. The bottom 80% could leave, retire, etc., and the management wouldn't particularly care.

  • James M on June 16, 2012 8:58 PM:


    (In a typical organization, 80% of the sales, profits, etc., can be attributed to 20% of the employees.)

  • pbasch on June 16, 2012 9:37 PM:

    This point in history may be remembered as the return of the barons - local lords who don't want any damn king coming between them and their serfs, imposing any damn rule of law. And the barons have done well in the past 40 years, accumulating all the growth to themselves. Since they have proportionally more power in the context of states, as opposed to the nation, it is in their interest to weaken the nation first, and the states second, so the only real power left is themselves. Our campaign funding system puts the barons in charge of which judges are elected, which state legislators, and even which congressmen. It's harder to control senate and presidential races, but they can sure try.

  • Kim on June 17, 2012 12:09 AM:

    Jimo wrote: "What do you mean I'll be lucky to get 3 to 7 for my little indiscretion when Angelo Mazilo, CEO of Countrywide (and named "one of the worst CEOs in history), destroys his company, is a key player in the economic crisis, commits felonies such as fraud and inside trading, yet walks away with more than half a billion dollars in loot?!?"

    Not only that but a criminal record is then attached to this middle class person for the rest of his/her life, making it impossible to stay in the middle class since the person can no longer find a job, obtain a bank loan, or function in many aspects of society.

    The rich and powerful, as pointed out... It just doesn't matter...

  • Crissa on June 17, 2012 2:44 AM:

    I remember once in traffic court when the highway patrolman lied about what he did. It infuriated me, but I wasn't able to, on the spot, do anything about it. The default assumes anything he says is truth.

  • rrk1 on June 17, 2012 7:52 AM:

    'Elite' has several meanings only one of which is a relatively small group of rich, powerful, privileged, snobs of high social standing. Unfortunately, that meaning is the only one in common usage, and it certain applies to the 0.1%, Of course, they bring nothing to the table but their snobbery, rationalized greed, and a highly exaggerated sense of entitlement and self importance when what they are, essentially, is parasites.

    The other meaning of 'elite', less used, is to define groups of high ability, training, and skill, also relatively small in number, i.e., the master surgeons, the mathematicians, intellectuals, brilliant scientists, philosophers, master airline pilots, and all those who excel at what they do. They are 'elite' in the best sense. These hugely important contributers to society deserve our respect and admiration. The first group we can easily do without. The second group are essential to our health and well-being as a society.

    In our anti-intellectual, anti-education culture, however, success and elitism are defined entirely in materialistic terms, especially by those in the first group, and the media they control. Thus has the blight of social Darwinism, the Rand worshippers, taken root in the political ideology of the far right, and is being sold as the natural way of the world, if not ordained by God. Even the post-modern distortion of Christianity, the prosperity Gospel, the idea of being 'chosen' to be rich, all play into this sense of elitism that we have internalized without examining.

    We all recognize there isn't a level playing field,not everyone can be 'elite', but the basic idea of our democracy is to apply the same set of rules to everyone, which would at least create some equality of opportunity. What we witness daily, however, is that the rules have become relative to who you are, actually who you aren't, and that is destroying us.

  • DKDC on June 17, 2012 9:25 AM:

    The 0.1% are exploiting a primeval psychological impulse known as optimism bias. It may be nearly impossible to fight against it because of another phenomenon known as blind-spot bias. Blind-spot bias means that its much easier to identify bias in others, but we suck at seeing our own biases.

  • James M on June 17, 2012 11:11 AM:

    rrk1: excellent post highlighting 2 common definitions of 'elites': people with an unearned sense of entitlement and people with exceptional abilities. I think most of us would agree that the truly talented elites like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates (and maybe even Jack Welch) pretty much deserve whatever wealth they accumulate. The problem is that now, more than ever, once people have accumulated wealth by whatever means, they can lock in structural advantages for their offspring for generations.

    Children from wealthy and upper middle class families, in addition to better access to medical care and better schools, have all sorts of non-obvious advantages. They have a much greater exposure to all the arts at a much earlier age. They often get to travel abroad and experience other cultures. They grow up in environments where their parents and relatives are mostly highly educated professionals or corporate executives. They learn all the unwritten rules of professional and corporate life almost by osmosis.

    Beyond all of the above, they have an overall aura of confidence and an attitude that they can, and are entitled to, achieve everything they want in life (something Malcolm Gladwell describes in his book Outliers). If the Randian social engineers get their way, and all public services, including education, continue to be pared back, the advantages of the children of the 'elite' will continue to grow.