An article in today’s NY Times had & has me stumped. In recalling Lehman Brothers 2008 meltdown, Aaron Ross Sorkin writes – – “The crisis was a moment that cleaved our country. It broke a social contract between the plutocrats and everyone else. But it also broke a sense of trust, not just in financial institutions and the government that oversaw them, but in the very idea of experts and expertise. The past 10 years have seen an open revolt against the intelligentsia.”
Mind you, I get it. People DID revolt against the intelligentsia, yet it’s been a misplaced revolt. A rabid revolt against the totally wrong group. Because the people who caused & subsequently rebounded quite nicely from the 2008 financial debacle were not, are not, anything close to actual intelligentsia – intellectuals, intelligent people, academics, scholars.
The people who did the middle class dirt were politicians who have & continue to put the short-term interests of the people who fund their campaigns ahead of those of the people who voted for them. Ditto financial muckety mucks who played fast & loose with other people’s money, who lost sight of what we thought they were meant to do – help people grow their wealth – in pursuit of the greater immediate profit, the risks be damned. Who crashed the economy, then left the middle class to pick up the tab. Who devastated men & women who thought they were climbing out of the lower class upward to the American Dream, only to be labeled schmucks & stupid for not realizing they were being used to turn a quick profit for the unscrupulous.
And the people – the clever but not far-seeing, the well-educated but unimaginative, the brilliant but at making others take the risks while they raked in the profits – who were responsible came out without a scratch. Just one (1) measly financier – with the dubious name of Kareem Serageldin – went to jail for the flat-out crimes committed by countless, from the lowliest clerk who fudged a filing to the tippy top CEOS. One.
I don’t often write here about current events here, but reading that statement in “the paper of record” got my goat. Because it is true.
Millions & millions of Americans DO blame people with Ivy League – or any university – degrees. A shambling use of English vouchsafes for countless Americans that a man has integrity. Being virtually incoherent, flagrantly dishonest & unabashedly coarse is seen as proof of authenticity, thus worthy of trust.
And the people who greased the skids that the financial derailment inevitable have their reputations intact, their fortunes restored, their positions cemented – the business leaders who continue to make the same mistakes to pacify their voracious appetite for more money & power; the politicians who promise the moon & once elected give their constituencies the shaft; the community leaders who sit on their hands rather than speak out against injustice.
Plus one more – people more invested in finding someone to blame for their plight than in doing the hard work to fix what’s broken, right what’s been wronged & get back on track what has been violently thrown off course. Who blind themselves to what actually happened, what still happens, in favor of damning their favorite fall guys & blindly vindicating those who say what they want to hear while doing what does them dirt.
What we need to hear are the voices of the majority – the people who are not emotionally off the rails, who believe in the bedrock principles our country, who have faith in their neighbor no matter what their neighbor’s faith. Those are the people whose voices need to raised more loudly, whose ability to disagree without damning is still intact, who were taught that we’re ALL created equal – and still believe it.
More of them & less of those voices espousing the division, disconnection & isolation that’s hand-in-glove with the rise of populism. Less of those who don’t know that history shows, time & again, that populism’s natural outcome is entrenched thinking, an eagerness to defend to the death a personal belief &, all too many times, wars that lead to just that.
As Ray Dalio, founder of the largest hedge fund in the WORLD, says – – “Populists tend to want to fight with the other side rather than try to find ways of getting through it.” On every side, populists breed the threat of real time conflict – guns & tanks & death, oh my – because the thing they “have in common (is) that they’re confrontational.” A sick variation on “My country, may she always be right, but my country, right or wrong.” Just substitute, “My ideology…” and you’ll be spot on.
Wall Street crashed the economy & Wall Street got off scot free – and there aren’t a lot of intelligentsia in those ranks. What did they learn from their mistakes? My guess is not a lot. People went to jail – including the head of the New York Stock Exchange – after the Crash of ’29. Over one thousand people were prosecuted after the 1980s’ savings & loan scandal, from minions to top execs. When it was revealed that WorldCom, Enron, Tyco & others had played fast & loose with accounting, their top execs ended up behind bars.
The reason average Americans don’t blame execs & financial powerhouses for the 2008 Meltdown – why they pin the blame on smarty pants with Ivy League degrees – is because no one of significance ended up in the pokey. Just Kareem Serageldin. If no one else went to jail, no one else was to blame.
Americans like someone to blame. Who to nail for struggling to cover or even get health care? For college students graduating with no job but a pile of non-negotiable debt? For houses still under water? For adult children living at home because they can’t find a decent job? For Grandma working at Walmart to make ends meet? For a carefully accumulated nest egg that was smashed in ’08? For an ever-growing income gap, where the rich get richer & the middle class continues to slip down a grade?
Americans like someone to blame & in our current president they found someone eager to portray them – like himself – as the targets of vague yet menacing, even lethal others. Who wears his ignorance as a badge of honor, his inability to speak coherently as proof of his trustworthiness, is core lack of character as proof positive of his inherent authenticity.
Yeah, now that I think about it, it DOES make sense that people would pin the blame on the intelligentsia rather than on the plutocrats & politicos who made it happen. Up is down, in is out, educated men & women capable of putting whole thoughts together are at fault for the flagrant greed of those who came out smelling like roses, shuttling between multiple homes on multiple continents, breeders of a new Gilded Age. That makes as much sense as anything in these massively senseless days.