Samuel Goldman in the New York Times:
America’s most powerful people have a problem. They can’t admit that they’re powerful.
And it’s not only politicians. Business figures love to present themselves as “disrupters” of stagnant industries. But the origins of the idea are anything but rebellious.
[T]he problem of insiders pretending to be outsiders cuts across party, gender and field. The question is why.
Part of the explanation is strategic. An outsider pose is appealing because it allows powerful people to distance themselves from the consequences of their decisions. When things go well, they are happy to take credit. When they go badly, it’s useful to blame an incompetent, hostile establishment for thwarting their good intentions or visionary plans.
Another element is generational. Helen Andrews argues that baby boomers have never been comfortable with the economic, cultural and political dominance they achieved in the 1980s. “The rebels took over the establishment,” she writes, “only they wanted to keep preening like revolutionaries as they wielded power.”
It is hard to change deeply rooted cultural tendencies. But there are strategies that might help us reconcile the performance of disruption with the demands of responsibility.
We should judge public figures by the arguments they make and the results they deliver, not whether they eat caviar, kale or capocollo.
Next, we need to learn from historical figures who embraced Weber’s “ethic of responsibility.”
Finally, we need to be honest: America has a de facto ruling class. Since World War II, membership in that class has opened to those with meritocratic credentials. But that should not conceal the truth that it remains heavily influenced by birth. […] Admitting the fact of noblesse might help encourage the ideal of oblige.
But there’s a limit to what can be accomplished by exhortation. Ultimately, the change must come from the powerful themselves. Just once, I’d like to hear a mayor, governor or president say: “Yes, I’m in charge — and I’ve been trying to get here for my entire life. I want you to judge me by how I’ve used that position, not by who I am.”