aPriL does feral sometimes's Reviews > Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy

Twilight of the Elites by Christopher L. Hayes
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Mar 28, 2013

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bookshelves: non-fiction, politics
Read in September, 2012

I love Chris. I love that he is intelligent and that he has a forum. I love that he does excellent and accurate research.

But I dislike books like this. He is making an argument either without the 'deep history' he is claiming to know, or this is truly how he sees things: unique to the present time, the elite lately are so corrupt and separated from the rest of us, and feel so superior to us, that we common people are waking up to their power and authority for the first time and we are discontinuing our previous awe of them or we no longer trust them to be fair and just in their dealings with us economic bottom 90%. That elites in disrespecting the 90% have destructively lost the faith of the masses, and in doing so, are severely damaging the institution of democracy (emphasis on the constitutionally protected ability to advance economically through merit) which perhaps may be crippled as a viable type of governance, a tremendous loss to everyone, ultimately.

I don't think it's unique to our time, or that the elites are currently unusually corrupt and disrespectful since civilization began or even that they are the worst generation of the wealthy to rule since America existed as a country.

There has truly been epic instances of corruption in the last decade from elites, some of whom appear to have done so with self-justifications of 'I'm smarter and richer'. The best thing about this book, the five star part, is the research and documentation Hayes provides in telling the stories of various and famous cons, cheats and white-collar crimes committed by elites in the last few decades who felt deserving of ill-gotten wealth because they had the nerve and lack of morality (i.e., 'balls') to not simply steal, but prove their superiority over folks supposedly way more dumb than themselves. But I think it's due more to the natural corruptibility of people in general throughout written history. It's proof that more safeguards, watchdogs, analysts and auditors with authority and power are needed. George W. pretty much finished gutting federal government of its auditors, and government watchdog departments still have not recovered. It's worrying.

But the getting away with corruption, in my opinion, comes and goes in cycles, and it happens because people in position to be corrupted take advantage of the lack of safeguards or punishment. The more they can hide it, the more they steal or take. Internal morality is a muscle for most that needs exercise, and many of us need a watchful environment or a decent friend for maintaining moral fiber. Our current political times have fewer reasons to impose self-control other than public shaming.

I am a child of the sixties, a protester of the Vietnam War and an old style feminist. I understand about framing an argument, and that's what this book is trying to do, maybe for today's liberal activists. To me, it sounds overcooked and strained, making linkages between scandals from this decade and a particular upper crust elite mindset that doesn't exist in such dramatic numbers or strength. Corruption has always been a scourge of societies throughout history. The upper crust in past centuries, I think, felt a hundred times more justified in screwing over the general public then the elite do today. The public today, like the general population though the centuries, turn a blind eye for a variety of reasons, but I find it hard to believe they are really oblivious of the signs corruption is occurring. Outrage is stoked by the exposure of the facts and proofs of corruption to light of day, but it quickly dies down in this country because people expect the creaking and somewhat gutted institutions that provide legal justice to be doing their jobs once public exposure has happened. At least in the USA, public shaming ITSELF is a punishment with bite and consequences - most of the time., because the masses vote with their spending, or not, of money, a seriously underrated attack on legally unpunished lawbreaking. For this reason, I'm grateful for a free press (mostly free), the Internet, and living in a democracy.

I am a mixed race, an economically poor female, and I know the poor sometimes make horrendous choices in their lives that are disgusting and abhorrent, if sometimes forgivable or understandable. But you don't have to be an elite to be disgusted or to use those underclass failures as a justification for hoarding money, or wonder if because you wouldn't have made those choices you are a better person or smarter. I still believe in equalizing opportunities and education and supporting the poor with housing/food/training/health care benefits as much as possible, and I think it's shameful how Americans have stepped away from that aspect of American belief.

I remember a Republican white elderly lady joining with us mostly liberals in a classroom for non-teachers to learn how to use a 'Each One Teach One' literacy program for adults. I asked her why she was here, and she said, "So they get off their asses and get a job and reduce my taxes by paying some of their own!" Her impulse to help came from class hatred, disrespect, assumed laziness in the adult students, and disgust. At first, hot rejoinders burst in my brain, but after a tick or two, I bit my lips. She was there, volunteering and helping to encourage the impoverished to improve their lives, whatever her personal beliefs.

Well. She turned out to be a good amateur teacher. So, I guess if this book likewise motivates people or starts the conversation...
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