Say what you will about young, conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat’s right-leaning political and cultural views, he is a smart and elegant writer of English prose, and more importantly by my lights, he is honest and rigorously self-appraising.
If you’d like to get to know him a bit better, find an interesting contrarian profile of Douthat (pronounced DOW-thut) in the left-wing periodical Mother Jones, here.
I routinely read Douthat’s columns because, while I frequently disagree with his positions, I always learn something worthwhile in general and about the conservative mindset in particular. As a putative small-d democrat and center-lefty (although I try to avoid labels), I think it’s important to keep up with what every side is thinking in major public debates.
A class fact?
Douthat’s latest offering, which is nominally about the Brett Kavanaugh vs. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford brouhaha in the Senate and currently everywhere else in America, is actually about something that is not supposed to exist: an American class system, and how it helped create the current controversy.
The Oct. 3 column in reference was titled “The Meritocracy Against Itself: How Ivy League resentments took over the Kavanaugh debate.”
In the piece, Douthat identifies himself — a privileged, Harvard-educated member of the Ivy League elite that includes Kavanaugh (a preppie Yalie) — as part of the structural problem of U.S. elitism.
Douthat noted that a female Washington Post columnist wrote last week after the Kavanaugh-Ford hearings of the “dreadful feeling of being yanked back … into a particular kind of college experience”:
“… the elite kind, the hyper-meritocratic kind, the Ivy League kind, the kind that inspires people to write insufferable columns like this one in which sociological observation becomes an excuse to remind your readers that you went to college ‘in New Haven’ or ‘near Boston’ or wherever Princeton is.”
It was a time (not too unlike the present) where privileged white males, descendants of the elite power structure in American society, felt entitled to do what they would with women and girls without significant consequence.
Which brings us to Dr. Ford’s allegation, publicly and compellingly submitted last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, that Judge Kavanaugh tried to rape her at a house party when she was 15 and he, 17. At the same hearing, Kavanaugh tearfully, defiantly and belligerently denied the allegation as having never happened.
So now the FBI is trying to find out who’s telling truth, if possible, while certain GOP senators are withholding their “yes” votes for Kavanaugh until corroborative information pointing one way or another might be uncovered.
The ‘debauched’ ’80s
Everything harkens back to the early-’80s freshman milieu of cosseted Ivy League campuses, in which Kavanaugh resided and Douthat later. Author Lisa Miller, in a recent New York magazine piece, titled “Brett Kavanaugh’s Former Roommate Describes Their Debauched Dorm at Yale,” describes the long-ago scene:
“Many … that year describe the social life on campus as extremely tribal and isolating, with the elites and legacies hanging with each other, dominating and creating ripples of inarticulate fear, while the outsiders — the nerds and the scholarship kids and the people of color — circled the outskirts seeking friendly alliances.”
As Douthat proceeds in his column denouncing the pitfalls of elitism, he feels the need for full disclosure and to acknowledge a sense of inauthenticity, of blaming himself, in a way.
“… so who am I, exactly,” he wrote, “to declare that there was some huge distance between myself and the Kavanaugh types, or any other preppy clique?”
“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. … 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.”
My school is better than yours
And some of the resentful ones are now on the Senate Judiciary Committee — senators who know and factor-in who of their rivals went to the No. 1 or No. 5 or (in Douthat’s case) No. 14 ranked prep school in their state — now salivating over an excellent opportunity for retribution.
In fact, many of the political class in Washington, D.C., are diploma-carrying members of this elite club of quasi aristocrats.
“[S]o part of what we’re watching,” concluded Douthat, “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.”
Interesting. But I’m more interested in what the FBI uncovers.
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