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Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Thugs in Sharp Suits

 "A thug in a sharp suit with an Ivy League degree is still a thug." - Mimi Swartz, "Never Forget What Ted Cruz Did" New York Times, 1/11/21

What a week. Have you recovered? I haven't. The world watches in horror as our democracy wavers. Repercussions slowly emerge. Business groups and corporate donors have condemned both last week's violence and the rejection of confirmed election results on the part of certain Congress members. Some corporations have asked for their money back or threatened to withhold all donations for the coming year. The Harvard Institute of Politics removed Representative Elise Stefanik (R - NY) from its Senior Advisory Committee after her repeated (unsubstantiated) claims of voter fraud.

The Harvard Institute of Politics is associated with the Kennedy School of Government and was created "to serve as a living memorial to President John F. Kennedy" (Wikipedia). Remembering Kennedy's exhortation "Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country," it  appears that Rep. Stefanik's efforts to undermine a free and fair election significantly depart from the Institute's mission. Kennedy School's dean, Douglas Elmendorf, issued a statement that read (in part): "Elise has made public assertions about voter fraud in November's presidential election that have no basis in evidence, and she has made public statements about court actions related to the election that are incorrect." (Politico) Dean Elmendorf initially asked Rep. Stefanik to resign, and when she refused, he removed her.

I applaud the Dean's action. Intelligence does not equal conscience and an Ivy League degree doesn't ensure a principled response. I saw this as a student at Harvard and I see it now in the examples of Stefanik, as well as Senators Josh Hawley (R - MO) and Ted Cruz (R - TX), who continue to insist the 2020 election results were fraudulent. When confronted with their repeated untruths, these three (and others like them) only assert that the "woke Left" is trying to erode their freedom of speech, their diversity of opinion. A lie is not a "diverse opinion," it is a lie. These individuals understand the difference.

They cannot claim lack of intelligence or education as a basis for their faulty reasoning. Stefanik graduated from Harvard College in 2006. Ted Cruz attended Princeton undergrad and went to Harvard Law School, and Josh Hawley attended Stanford and then Yale Law School. After years of legal study, they do understand that the election was fair and the results were accurate, but they have chosen to evade the truth and insist otherwise. Why? Hawley and Cruz have presidential ambitions and covet Trump's tens of millions of voters. I don't know the reasoning behind Stefanik's messaging. Usually the degradation comes down to money or power, an old but true story.

My years at Harvard introduced me to many different types of intelligent people.  As someone who grew up middle class and ignorant of anything outside my narrow stripe of experience, I would guess that most of my classmates were more wealthy than I. Certainly those who had spent four years at an expensive prep school were on a different plane. It was shocking to find that intelligent people make bad decisions, can be as cruel or cold as any uneducated individual (if not moreso). Credentials do not equal conscience; that became apparent as I learned about social justice.

Harvard introduced me to issues of social justice and inspired a need to act. I took a class with Robert Coles, the eminent child psychiatrist, on moral development. Coles highlighted the racial and socioeconomic inequalities that plague our society and disproportionately affect children, and in my section of the class I visited the projects of Cambridge and a hotel on the edge of Boston where families without homes paid day-to-day. Prior to taking Coles' class I was as ignorant of those living situations and inequalities as I was about wealth. At Harvard I met both the wealthy and powerful and those our nation had sacrificed in pursuit of those same false gods. 

There were many examples of good work. I coordinated the Big Brother - Big Sister program in Quincy House and observed as one of my housemates became a true big brother to his assigned "little brother." They have celebrated all major life events together for the past thirty years. Many of my class became public servants: doctors, nurses, teachers, professors, journalists, authors, scientists and parents who seek to improve our society, our country. Like most Americans, we wrestled with the hard truths and tried to avoid the easy lie.

The purpose of this blog is not to condemn myself, my classmates or anyone who has obtained an Ivy League or other college degree. But it's worth pointing out that many of the politicians currently trying to co-opt President Trump's populist base are not "of the people," but of the credentialed elite. Their intelligence renders this hypocrisy "breathtaking," to borrow a phrase from Mimi Swartz. These individuals know the election was fair and the results were accurate, but they do not care - they want the following that comes from "standing up to the elites" and they hope that voters forget their own highly credentialed (and expensive) backgrounds. I suspect they missed Coles' class on moral development.

Major donors and the business community as a whole seem to recognize this base hypocrisy and the dangerous and destabilizing violence that it presages. It's now obvious that a fair number of our elected officials would risk destroying our country if they got to rule over its ashes. Some Trump voters ignore the fact that inequalities would deepen in those ashes, that lives would certainly change, but not for the better. It's time for those of us who know the truth to declare it. The First Amendment is not an excuse to spray untruths, threats, and planned violence across our country, and a thug in a sharp suit with an Ivy League degree is still a thug.

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