Laura Ainsworth, Staff writer
Yesterday, we received a comment on our Substack edition by reader Marcia D:
Wondering …… why do we continue to call our “leaders and their minions” ELITE? They aren’t! You are so wonderful with words, how about coming up with something that describes our Hollywood snobs etc better. LOVE your newsletter.
Thanks for writing and for your kind appreciation. When we use...that word...it’s almost always meant ironically, so from now on, whenever appropriate, we’ll try to use quotation marks to make that clear. I decided to look at the various dictionary definitions of the word to see how they might apply to our political and societal “elite.” Here are a few…
Oxford Dictionaries has two definitions of the word as a noun. Since the second one relates to the “elite” 12-point typeface, we’ll toss that and focus on the first one: “a select group that is superior in ability or qualities to the rest of a group or society.” This definition might apply if we were talking about, say, an “elite” fighting force, but it definitely does not apply when we talk about our political and cultural leaders, as (ironically) they have aptly demonstrated. Polls certainly bear that out.
Merriam-Webster shades the meaning of “elite” a little differently, offering several entries:
1) the choice part, or ‘cream,’ as in “the elite of the entertainment world.” No, that doesn’t fit our leaders at all. If they’re a choice, it’s not our choice. If they’re the cream, it has long since curdled.
2) the best of a class, as in “the superachievers who dominate the computer elite.” Sorry, no. If these leaders are the best we’ve got, we need to start thinking outside the box about where our leaders are going to come from. The ones in power now are not superachievers by any stretch of the imagination. I think some of them must realize this. Kamala Harris, for example, surely realizes on some level that she’s in over her head. Maybe that’s why she cackles uncontrollably --- to try to dispel her own panic.
3) the socially superior part of society, as in “how the French-speaking elite was changing.” No, that definition fits only if we look at how these leaders think of THEMSELVES. They are considered socially superior only within their own circle, perhaps in Hollywood or the Upper West Side. If this definition were modified to reflect that, it could work.
4) a group of persons who by virtue of position or education exercise much power and influence, as in “members of the ruling elite.” At last, here’s a definition that really does seem to fit, with a few caveats. First, we’ve got to put the word “education” in quotation marks, considering what a so-called Ivy League education means these days. And we’d definitely want to add the word “undue,” as in “undue influence.” Gee, wouldn’t it be nice to undo all that undue influence?
If used as an adjective, M-W’s definition is “superior in quality, rank, skill, etc., as in, “The elite chess players of today...hail from all over the world.” But while, tragically, our leaders do rank higher in power and influence than the rest of us –- that’s what makes them leaders, after all –- they only think they’re superior in terms of quality and skill.
Good lord, the President of the United States, arguably the 'elitest' of the elite, can’t even read a teleprompter, and that's too bad because he can't speak without one. If he were TRYING to destroy the country, I doubt he’d be doing anything differently. On the other hand, if that’s what he actually is trying to do, I take it back: he definitely has some skills. He's been in office little more than one year, and it's hard to watch the news at any given moment without thinking the words "hell in a handbasket."
Our (probable) next Supreme Court justice --- there's hardly anything more 'elite' than that lofty perch --- says she can’t even define what a woman is and doesn’t think her views on that or on CRT would be an issue for her as a justice. The bar has really been lowered.
Moving on, the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines “elite” this way:
A group or class of persons considered to be superior to others because of their intelligence, social standing or wealth.
Again, our “elite” consider THEMSELVES to be superior in intelligence (some, I would call idiot savants) and, in many cases, social standing. Wealth, however, is a more objective standard that definitely does apply. To illustrate, I’ll use “elite” in a sentence: “Elites such as Mark Zuckerberg use their vast wealth and undue influence to buy elections.”
The Collins English Dictionary defines the noun “elite” like this:
The most powerful, rich, gifted or educated members of a group, community, etc.
Again, the same issues apply. This definition might work if we put “educated” in quotes and also, in quite a few cases, add just one letter to change “gifted” to “grifted.”
The Random House Kemerman Websters College Dictionary has several entries:
1) the choice or best of a group, class or the like. (NOPE.)
2) persons of the wealthiest class. (YES, generally that is true.)
3) a group of persons exercising authority within a larger group. (YES, indeed.)
Check your thesaurus, and you might see many of these synonyms for “elite”:
upper class, upper crust (I"d say it’s true, some of them are looking pretty crusty)
elect, chosen (Not by us, God knows)
cream, pick (Again, this cream is curdled)
intelligentsia (Hold on, ever hear the expression, "educated beyond one's intelligence"?)
beau monde, bon ton, high society, ‘smart set’ (Two words: Hillary’s pantsuits)
aristocracy, gentry, nobility (Two words: John Kerry)
technocrat (Well, we're definitely crawling with those)
selected (Editorial note: remember, they can be un-selected!)
I’m also reminded of the Cole Porter song, “You’re the Top.” You know, “You’re the top...you’re the Colosseum! You’re the top...you’re the Louvre Museum!” Except in the case of our “elite” leaders, I’d sing it this way:
“You’re a flop...you’re a big disaster
You’re a flop...you are not my master
You can censor me and de-monetize my words
But I’ll cause some blowback, I’ll go on Substack, I WILL be heard!
You’re a flop...just an Ivy Leaguer
You’re a flop...and your talent’s meager
As ‘elites’ you stink but you think that you’re tip-top
You are way down on the bottom, you’re a flop!