Memorials marking the passing of former president George H.W. Bush have prompted commentators to reflect on the American establishment of old.
Washington Post columnist Fareed Zakaria is among them.
In his Dec. 6 post, Zakaria notes that Bush was a product of the white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture that dominated life in the U.S. through the early 1960s. It was an aristocratic system of social, political and corporate power based on family bloodlines and connections. It was also highly discriminatory.
Yet, Zakaria says there was at least one positive element. “For all its faults — and it was often horribly bigoted, in some places segregationist and almost always exclusionary — at its best, the old WASP aristocracy did have a sense of modesty, humility and public-spiritedness that seems largely absent in today’s elite.”
Today’s Elites Lack Empathy
In contrast, he says, those in power today see their ascendancy as purely the product of their own hard work. “They lack some of the sense of the old WASP establishment that they were accidentally privileged from birth,” Zakaria says.
“(T)heir power flows from this treadmill of achievement, so they are constantly moving, looking out for their own survival and success. Their perspective is narrower, their horizon shorter-term, their actions more self-interested.”
Growing Sense of Resentment
As a result, today’s elite has fostered a sense of resentment among those who feel as if their needs and struggles are being ignored by their more successful and entitled countrymen. That is reflected in Trump’s populist appeals as well as the “Yellow Vests” protests in France and the 2016 Brexit vote in the U.K.
Zakaria is quick to note he is not seeking a revival of the WASP establishment, but he believes there’s a lesson in the virtues of that culture.
“Today’s elites should be more aware of their privilege,” he says, “and at least live by one simple old-fashioned, universal idea — rich or poor, talented or not, educated or uneducated, every human being has equal moral worth.”
You can read Zakaria’s full article, “I’m not calling to revive WASP culture. Just to learn from it.” at The Washington Post.