What does it mean to be anti-elite

originally published on 14 Nov 2020

Here is an open question: what does it mean to be anti-elite?

I feel a lot of common cause with anti-elites everywhere. I resent a wealthy uber-rich class of people who continue to grow in wealth even as people can work full time and still be in poverty; even as institutional racism persists; and especially as global climate change runs amok. I think of the “one percent” as the elite, and it would be safe to say that Sanders and Warren speak for me. I see good government as a possible way of regulating excess and working for the common people against the effects of unchecked wealth and power.

But one thing this article is saying that one’s definition of elite depends a lot on where one sits. So while I might be anti-elite from a point of wealth, others can be anti-elite from a point of education or from a point of rural vs. urban or Christian vs non-Christian. Trump seems to have exploited the pervasive anti-elite sentiment by painting liberals as self-righteous, godless, urban people who dote over Hollywood stars and want to take money away from hard-working Americans and give it to people who don’t work. It is ironic that this is coming from a draft-dodging, godless trust fund baby, who routinely doesn’t pay contractors (or taxes) and uses foreign labor to make his products. But the fact that 70 million plus people voted for him, even after we all know who he is, speaks volumes about how thoroughly important his anti-elite message is. He has touched a nerve.

It is odd for me that the people who I blame in my head are always caricatures of real people. When I think about actual people who I have met in my life who might be in the 1 percent, they are almost always kind and generous. My anti-elite sentiment vanishes in the face of a real person.

I wish I could wave a magic wand and have everyone in United States take some turns living in the shoes of other Americans. We might see we have much more in common than what divides us. The closest I can come for myself is to read and watch stories by authors, writers, directors, and producers who live different lives than I do. I can also pay attention to the news and imagine what it might be like to get that news from a different perspective.

I think we all need to be sensitive to the way that counter-elites can manipulate anti-elite sentiment in order to undermine systems that work for people. This works on the left and the right. This article seems to be saying that by some sort of mathematical calculations, we have reached a point where the breakdown of our society is inevitable, because of the excess of elites beyond the carrying capacity of the rest of us. Trumpism and the Occupy movement might both be seen as a response to the excesses of elites. Although from my perspective when I hear Occupy or BLM folks say “burn it all down,” I am more likely to imagine the end of racially oppressive capitalism in a positive light than imagine the apocalyptic collapse of functional society. And conversely when I hear Trump supporters saying “burn it all down” when referring to “big government,” I imagine something much worse. Perspective.

Edit: I am aware that to be blanket anti elite is problematic. Part of that is the history of using Jews as scapegoats and making anti-elitism and anti-semitism into the same thing.



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Andrew Gaertner

Andrew Gaertner


To live in a world of peace and justice we must imagine it first. For this, we need artists and writers. I write to reach for the edges of what is possible.