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America in the Age of Myth

Education? Public unions are saintly. Charter schools and vouchers are satanic. But the aristocrat, who knows best what is good for the masses, prefers and can afford the private school, and feels no guilt in his choice because his version is liberal while the more low-brow alternative is often crappy and not that much better than the public offering. (E.g., if you wish to duck out of the public school system, at least have the class to do it with style rather than on the cheap: a Castilleja or Andover rather than First Christian Academy.)

In lieu of the traditional aristocrat estate, peerage, or title, the outward manifestation of aristocracy is an Ivy League brand or a West Coast Stanford version. The proper campus is one’s lifelong entrée. The right quad is where your kids meet the right mate and receive a bumper sticker that opens the right doors. Such university snobbery is inconsistent with classical liberalism, but not with liberal aristocratic values, which are based on exclusionary criteria. For the NBC anchor, or the Massachusetts senator, or the Google executive, the key is to get your kid into the right prep school, as requisite for the even more correct Ivy League, where the perfect spouse and Facebook founders-like coterie are found. It is not just that junior will emerge with correct ideas about gay marriage, abortion, green power, the U.S. role abroad, and the poor, but that he will be seen, by virtue of his degree, as having the right ideas.

Apartheid is the unifying theme of coastal aristocracy. Without it, reality would disabuse the grandee of his worldview. Take any tenured Berkeley professor of environmental studies and make his existence hinge on squeezing a daily profit out of a Selma Stop-N-Go, and this gentle brontosaurus would turn into a Tyrannosaurus rex in a nanosecond.  Therefore exclusion of all sorts from the underbelly of America is an essential.

One associates with mostly fellow one percenters. One picks and chooses friends on the basis of where they work and where they were educated and the views they hold. A Chevron field job, a University of Idaho degree in sports journalism, a strong aversion to abortion -- all this is impermissible. In some Frankenstein-like laboratory, an evil genius cooked up Sarah Palin, whose looks, accent, background, views, and style were designed to enrage the coastal aristocracy.

I used to think that the coastal aristocracy was just hypocritical in matters of race, but as I age I fear I have become more cynical: it is not white guilt that explains why the coastal elite seek gestures of progressive caring  (how else would an anti-Semitic, race-baiting provocateur like Al Sharpton be given his own show? Or an unaccomplished Touré rate over the accomplished Dr. Carson?), but a real aversion to mixing with unlike kind. On matters of race, the liberal worldview of affirmative action, busing, amnesty, and vast entitlements is a psychological mechanism for conniving to get your own into Princeton, for ensuring they are not schooled in fourth grade with a bused-in student body, and ensuring that you are not in the evening line at Save Mart as the only English speaker or privately racially profiling the two scary people who just lined up behind you at the convenience store checkout stand. An alien from Mars who studied the liberal aristocrat would conclude that he is a segregationist of the first order.

The Iconic UFW

Another myth. I opened my Easter Sunday Google browser and did not find a Christian icon on the page, but instead a (badly done) romantic rendition of a youthful Cesar Chavez, apparently our age’s version of a politically correct divinity.

Yet I wondered whether the midlevel Googilites who post these politically hip images knew all that much about Chavez. I grant in this age that they saw no reason to emphasize Christianity on its most holy day. But there is, after all, Miriam Pawel’s 2010 biography of Chavez still readily accessible, and a new essay about him in the Atlantic -- both written by sympathetic authors who nonetheless are not quite the usual garden-variety hagiographers.  To suggest something other than sainthood is heresy in these parts, as I have discovered since the publication of Mexifornia a decade ago.

I grew up in the cauldron of farm-labor disputes. Small farms like ours largely escaped the violence, because there were five of us kids to do the work in summer and after school, and our friends welcomed the chance to buck boxes or help out propping trees or thinning plums. Hired help was rare and a matter of a few days of hiring 20 or so locals for the fall raisin harvest. But the epic table grape fights were not far away in Parlier, Reedley, and down the 99 in Delano. I offer a few impressions, some of them politically incorrect.

First, give Chavez his due. Farmworkers today are more akin to supposedly non-skilled (actually there is a skill required to pruning and picking) labor elsewhere, with roughly the same protective regulations as the food worker or landscaper. That was not true in 1965. Conservatives will argue that the market corrected the abuse (e.g., competition for ever scarcer workers) and ensured overtime, accessible toilets, and the end to hand-held hoes; liberals will credit Chavez -- or fear of Chavez.