The word "elite" is apparently a derogatory term now, if one is to take seriously the comments from various pundits. Being "elite" used to be something to which we aspired, as it is defined as something "superior in quality, rank, or skill" according to Merriam-Webster's dictionary. Now, as populism seems to be taking over this country, it is used to designate one as an over-educated, liberal, arrogant snob with little empathy for those who have not achieved the same level of status. Sounds more like sour grapes to me.
Democracy has depended upon the elite since this country's inception. The Founding Fathers were considered the elite of the young republic. They were educated, experienced in governing, and each excelled in some area that contributed to the establishment of the Constitution and its ideals. They were wise enough to include safeguards to prevent much of the abuse associated with the even more elitist monarchies and dictatorships. They did this by establishing the notion of equality in giving the nation's populace a vote in matters of government, with certain modifications, i.e., the Electoral College. The Founders recognized that there was a gap in the level of education and overall knowledge of the typical colonist, who may not have had the time or wherewithal to understand the complexities of governing a democracy. After all, colonists were more preoccupied with survival than comparing the qualities of one candidate over another. This gap in knowledge could result in election of unfit persons for government. So, persons in each state were picked to act as a safeguard against uninformed voting. Has the level of "informed persons" now risen such to do away with the Electoral College? That's another matter.
Consider also that "elites" have been the leaders in most all areas of making this country viable. They are leaders in business, commerce, education, and government. What makes them elite is their ability to show expertise in those areas. Being elite, however, does not take into account the personality, morals, or ethics of those in power. Only when exposed as not working for the best interest of the country are they derided for their actions. Elitists in positions of power are supposed to be more interested in serving the needs of the country because doing such helps them to retain their position. The system breaks down, theoretically, when self-interest becomes more important than the interests of the country.
Today's populist movement seeks to give voice to those who feel they have been forgotten or trodden upon. As usual, we now see the movement taken to extremes. Social media allows almost anyone to have a platform for their views, including the ignorant. News media caters to the shortened attention spans of the populace. When was the last time a detailed interview on an issue was presented by major news outlets? I can't think of one, either. Why not have debates with no audiences? Maybe because the audience reaction is more "news worthy" than what is debated? We now have sound bites presented as entertainment. The "news" is now nothing but click-bait with teaser headlines designed more for attracting advertising than informing the public. Catering to the ignorant masses is apparently more profitable than actually providing real news.
Before we automatically condemn all the elites for all the problems of the world, consider that they also just might know what they are doing. I would not trust a Wall Street executive to tell farmers how to raise their cattle, nor would I trust a plumber to remove my gallbladder. Perhaps those who have served in academia, government, and bureaucracies know a little more than those who are yelling and screaming for their ouster.
-- Devin Houston is the president/CEO of Houston Enzymes. Send comments or questions to [email protected] The opinions expressed are those of the author.
Editorial on 09/18/2019
Print Headline: On being elite