It's hard to avoid elitism when you're smarter than everyone else

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Photo: The White House/Wikimedia Commons

Last year's memo from voters has finally started to sink in among the bright-eyed smarties who run things, or aspire to. The message? We don't like you or trust you. Maybe we don't need you.

Here's Campbell Clark in the Globe explaining that Trudeau Liberals "can't afford to be viewed as a party of privilege."

And here's Lawrence Martin, also in the Globe, on U.S. Democrats: they must "shed the elitist image and expand their appeal to...low-educated white folk. Mr. Trump draws on the emotional intensity of the rabble. He's uninformed..."

You couldn't find a more elitist journalistic rendering of the need to shun elitism.

The Liberals, to their credit, seem to know this. It's why they want to be the party of the people or, as they call it, the middle class. But then, why do they have such trouble getting there? It's fascinating, even touching, to watch them flail and fail. Why not just denounce those elites and separate yourselves from them, as Trump did. As Bernie Sanders did, or Jeremy Corbyn.

Maybe it's not so easy when you genuinely think you are privileged -- not in the sense of moneyed, though some are; but of being worthy and meritocratic. That's how Thomas Frank describes U.S. Democrats' flattering self-image: smarter, more educated, more compassionate even -- thus best qualified to run things. Their role models? Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Warren Buffett.

The speedy shortcut to not being "viewed" as privileged would be not being captivated by your own elite status: knowing it's less the result of merit than of privilege itself (via family and other startup advantages, like race), plus luck.

But that would mean downgrading your self-esteem, which is a lot to ask. It's hard not to be elitist when you know you're better than everyone else.

What are the signs of ingrained elitism? There's the odious term, smart guys, for those you love associating with and, by extension, yourself. Obama used it for Buffett, et al.

I'm not sure why it enrages me. Maybe it's the implied demotic. "Hey, we're just guys, like you dummies on the outside, except we're smart and you're not. So let us drive."

Joe Biden is implied demotic, since he goes by "Joe," though he's loyally served wealth and power forever. Hillary tries for ordinary guyness but the nearest she gets is dropping her g's when she remembers to. She dotes on Henry Kissinger, a war criminal. He talks good, it's true, but so did the huckster at the Ex who I bought a useless kitchen device from when I was 10 because of his spiel. That doesn't make Hillary smart, it makes her clueless.

Another indicator is the notion that worthiness is related to education, since everyone knows Trump supporters are uneducated. (False, actually.) I'm all for good public schools but an education makes you educated, not smart -- i.e., able to think clearly and incisively. That comes from somewhere else.

Harold Innis said that when there was no system of education in England -- late 1700s to early 1800s -- more of the poor rose to "distinction" than at any other time. Koheleth (in the Bible) learned one thing from reading many books: that there's no end of them and they make you vain, not wise, since "all is vanity."

Another sign of ingrained elitism is constantly telling Canadians what they think, feel or want. I utterly fail to comprehend the appeal of this trope. This week Tory leader Andrew Scheer said: "What drives Canadians crazy is when they think..." NDP leader Singh said: "The reality is Canadians are not satisfied. Canadians expect..."

Why not just describe what you think yourself and let Canadians decide how they roll on those things. Even better, ask them! And not just on a "listening tour," as if it's a special regimen you go on, like a kelp diet.

OK, but if you don’t think you're smarter than others, or wiser, more compassionate and capable, why would you run for office at all? Good question. Maybe that's why the ancient Greeks had democracy but not elections. Policies were determined through discussion in mass assemblies of citizens. There were officials but they were selected by lot, not votes. I'm just saying.

It meant that self-satisfied elitists weren't tempted to run for public office. Not that such a thing is inevitable with our system, but it's hardly discouraged.

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: The White House/Wikimedia Commons

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