Am I Elite? By Derek Jones

Am I Elite?

I’m a 35 year old college educated white, straight male that lives in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. I think it’s super important for me to start this blog with the social constructions by which I am bound to and identify with. Here are some of the things I do with my time: For starters I work in retail and make a decent lower middle class income with a team I enjoy being around. I live with my girlfriend, who works in the arts, part-time, and supplements her income with a part time retail gig (yes, this is how we met). Our combined household income isn't much but it’s enough for us. Together, we rent a small three bedroom row home in South Philadelphia. Our neighborhood is diverse, made of families, a few druggies, and some people that mostly keep to themselves. We have a kitten and we are about to adopt our second (because let’s face it having one doesn’t cut it). All in all, I have a really nice life that I’ve worked hard for, and I am very much looking forward to the future as I contemplate my next steps in life. Despite having worked hard, I acknowledge that there are millions of Americans working hard, yet can not make ends meet. 

I think it’s also super important to say, I’ve fucked up a lot. As a young man, I made sure to rebel against my loving and warm home by being a self-indulgent short sited arrogant ass clown that made a long list of mistakes. The very parents, who I so arrogantly rebelled against, shielded me from doing any permanent harm to myself. I mentioned these mistakes because it highlights my privilege. Being in the mainstream has cushioned my mistakes and given me ample opportunities to course correct and live a nice life. I am conscious of the many people who aren’t me, who don’t get second, third and fourth chances, who sometimes don’t even get a chance. I’ve never been in those shoes, so it would be a lie to say I am truly empathic to their struggle, but I am a good listener and my digital and literal door is always open to good people. 

If I am to answer the question, “Am I elite?” I have to examine myself through the prism of the social construct. Like all of us, I am also trapped in the cliche and mundane that defines us. On one hand, I’ve lived a privilege life and yet on the other, I feel so very far removed from the wealthy and powerful.   

I recently wrote a blog on my website about Lord of the Rings and tribalism. The blog made me think about the media and the cultural impact of the 2016 presidential election. It think it is safe to say that many really smart people got the election completely wrong. Right up till election day, everyone, and I mean everyone, believed Donald Trump didn’t stand a chance. Even Trump seemed to believe that the polls sealed his defeat as certain as the sun rising from the east and setting in the west. Otherwise, why did he have no transition plans in place? Take a moment and look at the pictures of Trump as his victory was announced. I think those photos encapsulate the way many people felt, dumbstruck. The media coverage post election night 2016 made one thing apparently clear: 

Smart people don’t like to be wrong.  

In the face of getting the entire election incorrect, media experts, political scientist, professional pollsters, scrambled to explain what went wrong. To examine this, exit polls where being utilized the find who voted for Trump, didn’t vote for Clinton, or simply stayed home. In the wake of this data, people ceased to be people, we become subcategories. America became a product of socioeconomic geographical blah blah blah. Depending on where you lived, how you earned your income, if you went to college or not, your gender, your race, you fit neatly into the baffling puzzle media pundits and social scientists alike were piecing together. That puzzle? “How did Trump get elected?” Hearing myself being lumped into a category got me thinking, am I this category? I do live on the east coast, so I can’t argue against the geography. I have already acknowledge that privilege is part of my successes in life. I have a degree, a massive collection of books I’ve read cover to cover, I go to the theater on a regular basis, I like adventure travel, I’m an atheist, I have a beard and long hair, and oh my god, I am the costal elite!

However, slowing myself down, I thought it would be prudent to discover where this term came from, and how it came to encapsulate the white professional urban class. Good luck finding out who coined the term, because I couldn’t. Scratching the surface of the internet lead to digging deep into forums and websites, hopeful of finding who first used the term “costal elite” and why. While it is hard to find where this term came from, it’s everywhere and it’s an insult. Those who throw this term around with frequency and fervor utilize it in the rhetoric of othering. Rhetorical othering occurs when one person (or a group of persons) utilize language to draw a metaphoric boundary between large populations of people. It involves arguing why there is a “we” and a “them”. For example, any nation that prepares to go to war, has to make a rhetorical argument of othering. The aggressor needs to make a case that their enemy is an “other” one that can only be stopped by killing them. Popes did this during the Crusades, changing the laws of Catholicism to grant spiritual immunity to knights that killed Muslims— making Medieval Muslims the other, whose existence was outside of the commandment “Thou Shall Not Kill”. “Costal elite” is the rhetorical sword that draws the line on the battlefield where on one side is the “real” America, rural, tough, Christian, and proud. On the other side are the elites, agnostics/atheists, New York Times reading (no surprise I read it everyday) latte drinking, Wall Street trading elites, who are out of touch and look down at the “real” America. Trump realized that there was already a line in the sand, and he ratcheted the rhetoric up several notches. He exploited the current debate around a binary America (rural vs urban), and said that he would finally win this battle by breaking the perceived stranglehold costal elites had on American political discourse and media. 

Sailing the sea of rhetorical arguments creating a binary America can often feel depressing. If I am this costal elite, I don’t want to be. Like many Philadelphians, I am originally from a small rural town. If someone works with their hands, or in a field, and if they forget to wear sun screen maybe they get a sun burn on the back of their neck, I don’t want to assume, de facto, that they are ignorant and racist. On the same token, if a rural American sees me in Starbucks sipping a mocha reading the New York Times on my MacBook, I don’t want them thinking I’m a snob. And what really is at stake here are two different classes of America, the working and the professional. But why are we at odds to begin with? My latte comes from a complex business infrastructure that involves farmers, truck drivers, and baristas. For my life to function, I need rural America. Surely there are differences between us, but our interconnection and interdependence is real, both economically and culturally. So why all the cultural antipathy? To answer that question, one needs to ask another, more pertinent question: who benefits from our cultural antipathy? 

The answer: many people. Rhetorical othering, historical, is not engaged in sincerely. I would argue that Pope Urban II, who called on Western Europe to Crusade against Jerusalem, knew that war was diametrically opposed to Christian theology. He also knew that calling for a crusade would be bloody, costly, and that thousands of Christians— whom God commanded him to protect— would meet their demise. But the prize of adding Jerusalem into his sphere of influence was worth the cost. To justify this battle, he deemed a Holy Crusade, whereby killing a Muslim was not killing at all. It was a holy act praised by God. The common solider who marched from France to Jerusalem and bled on the battlefield needed the rhetorical othering to justify his action. Today, the beneficiary of creating a rhetorical class battle between workers and professionals is a billion dollar business, involving websites, podcasts, books, television, speeches, etc. A small group of powerful people, motivated to enrich themselves, wield the sword of rhetorical othering and line their pockets with cash. Do me a favor, google how much Ann Coulter is worth. Then, google how much Rush Limbaugh is worth. And finally, google how much Rupert Murdoch is worth. 

I’ll wait.

Now, let’s ask, who really is “elite”?