The protest movement of the 1960s has died out on the surface, but it has not died in any fundamental sense. It is breaking forth in the creation of what might be called the "upper American," who is quite different from anything we have seen before. This upper American is largely an outgrowth of the '60s protest against a middle-class, middle-American society.These days, the top schools on the coasts don't take in too many middle-class or poor kids (that's a recent William Deresiewicz lament). All the same, the statement anticipates Hillary Clinton not staying home baking cookies, or Barack Obama developing a taste for arugula. And the cognitive elite.
Upper Americans, are not defined by income; although few are poor, they range through all the middle and wealthier classes. They are people with certain attitudes, with a strong sense of being distinct from the "middle American." They deplore food that smacks of meat and potatoes, brush aside beer and bourbon for vodka and wine. They shudder at movie heroes, advice columnists and TV evangelists, unabashed patriotism, fussy clothes, the woman who thinks a family is everything and the man who is a straight arrow.
They are basically college graduates in their 20s, 30s, and early 40s, especially people who have gone to school on the two coasts. The top schools have become vast homogenizers, and they turn out upper Americans. You take the rich kid, the poor kid and the middle-class kid, put him in these schools, and they come out pretty much the same.
Unanticipated, though: what happens when a president of the Coastal Elite loses the support of the Coastal Elite.
The type of politician who appeals to them is John Kennedy-the John Kennedy before he was demeaned by later revelations and developments.That's the same John Kennedy who was protected by the prior Eastern Establishment, and had the veil of martyrdom for some time after ... didn't Bill Clinton once gripe about that?
Since the 1960s, Presidents who have lost the allegiance of upper Americans have gotten into terrible trouble because these people influence the fields that shape opinion. They are strong, for example, in journalism, in the universities'. No President is going to have an easy time with the American public if he doesn't have at least a degree of rapport with this group.
The prescience, though, is in matters cultural and economic.
There is a fundamental difference in values between upper Americans and most of the rest of society. The boom in religion that many people speak of certainly doesn't exist in upper America today. Religion has little hold on students in the elite colleges: They believe that they are going to make money and advance in social position, but they have few or no verities, few or no truths. They don't even believe in their own disillusionment! By contrast, people down below still possess certain beliefs that help hold them together.I wonder if "Occupy" fizzled in part because it's still too much of a leap for the Ivy graduate with a victim-studies degree to revise his priors about disillusionment. And it might be easier to have snarking sessions in The Nation or on MSNBC than to engage with Christian beliefs. (Rationalizing the excesses among Moslems is straightforward.)
In part because of the emergence of the upper Americans, class lines in the United States are growing sharper than ever. The reason is very simple: As long as you could.make a living without a high degree of training, the social classes could live more or less in harmony. But, more and more, the man with no training is way down, while the man with training is way up.Plenitude, and technical progress, might have postponed the reckoning. Unfortunately, we're still in the world of a coalition of high-status lawyers and people rendered unemployable by the minimum wage marching under the banner of Four of Five Experts Agree facing off against a coalition of middle-status lawyers and downwardly mobile tradesmen With the Cross of Jesus Going On Before.
Given this development, it's possible that we could be moving toward a repeat of the class conflict that existed in the 1880s and 1890s, when there was a tremendous difference between groups-and a danger of class violence. Then along came Theodore Roosevelt and then Franklin Roosevelt-so free of the middle-class stamp-who used the government to mollify class differences. Some such leadership will probably be very much needed in the future.
Conditions might have to get worse, before such leadership emerges.