Chris Hayes and the Elites


I consider myself to be a huge fan of MSNBC talk show host Chris Hayes.  His Saturday – Sunday morning political news analysis talk show known as Up w/Chris Hayes is hands down the best news commentary program on American television.  It is arguably the only TV show to which one can turn today for objective analysis of what’s actually happening in the world of politics, foreign affairs, economics, and finance, topics about which Hayes possesses encyclopedic knowledge.

Although he is a liberal Democrat who supports Barack Obama, a political ideologue he is not.  Unlike his MSNBC colleagues Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O’Donnell, and Ed Schultz, Hayes is not an apologist for Obama.  He neither tries to sugar coat him nor blame all of his failures on the Republicans.

It was, therefore, with eager anticipation that I awaited the publication of Hayes’s first book, Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy, only to find myself sorely disappointed by the results.

Hayes  believes that a new breed of elites, “more prone to failure and corruption” than their predecessors, gave rise to a series of major failures during the first decade of the twenty-first century including those of Wall Street, Corporate America, the White House, the Congress, the Roman Catholic Church, Penn State University, and even Major League Baseball.  He goes on to link these failures to the system of “meritocracy” in the United States which he defines as “putting the most qualified, best equipped people into the positions of greatest responsibility and import.”  But is he right?  I think not.

That elites have played an important role, if not the dominant role, in the history of the United States since day one is an irrefutable fact.  Morris Berman confirms this in his recent book Why America Failed, although he couches his argument in terms of “hustling” rather than elitism.  Berman argues convincingly that “hustling, materialism, and the pursuit of personal gain without regard for its effects on others” have provided the dominant theme of American culture since the sixteenth century.  I believe there is a relatively thin line separating hustling from elitism and meritocracy as practiced in the United States.  As Berman said, “The hustling life is a type of cancer at the very center of a nation’s soul.”

Hayes is not very convincing when he argues that there was something new and unique about the elites who presided over the demise of Enron, WorldCom, Global Crossing, Bear Stearns, and Lehman Brothers or those who promoted and orchestrated the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention the cover-up of the Catholic Church’s sex scandal.  While it is true that the bankster MBAs who precipitated the 2008 financial crisis did have access to some very sophisticated new financial instruments and fancy mathematical models, there was really nothing new about the dirty tricks they employed including creative accounting, insider trading, stock price manipulation, lying, cheating, bribery, and fraud to mention only a few.  However, I have to concede, Bernie Madoff may have been one-of-a-kind!

What Hayes has overlooked is that rule by elites is not the only common characteristic shared by Wall Street banks, Corporate America, the U.S. Government, the Catholic Church, Penn State University, and Big League Baseball.  What all of these institutions have in common is that they are too big, not too big to fail, too big to manage.  They are fundamentally unmanageable by elites or anyone else, and it matters not whether they are a part of a meritocracy or not.

And what does Chris Hayes propose that we do about the problem of excessive elitism in America?  Of course, “make America more equal.”  And how will that be accomplished?  “We will need to imagine a different social order, to conceive of what more egalitarian institutions would look like.  We will need to construct coalitions, institutions, and constituencies that militate not only against the status quo but for equality.  The most fundamental institutions – our educational system, the federal government, the national security state, and Wall Street – must be confronted and reformed directly.”

It apparently never occurred to Mr. Hayes that neither the U.S. Government, Wall Street, Corporate America, the Catholic Church, nor Penn State may be fixable.

Chris Hayes is a very good writer when he focuses on a specific topic such as Wall Street bailouts, the U.S. fiscal debacle, the euro crisis, the tension with Iran, or gay rights.  Where he seems to have problems is in connecting the dots.

Maybe he should devote most of his time to his superb television show and less time to writing books.

Thomas H. Naylor is Founder of the Second Vermont Republic and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Duke University; co-author of AffluenzaDownsizing the U.S.A., and The Search for Meaning.

Weekend Edition
October 9-11, 2015
David Price – Roberto J. González
The Use and Abuse of Culture (and Children): The Human Terrain System’s Rationalization of Pedophilia in Afghanistan
Mike Whitney
Putin’s “Endgame” in Syria
Jason Hribal
The Tilikum Effect and the Downfall of SeaWorld
Paul Street
Hope in Abandonment: Cuba, Detroit, and Earth-Scientific Socialism
Gary Leupp
The Six Most Disastrous Interventions of the 21st Century
Andrew Levine
In Syria, Obama is Playing a Losing Game
Louis Proyect
The End of Academic Freedom in America: the Case of Steven Salaita
Rob Urie
Democrats, Neoliberalism and the TPP
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
The Bully Recalibrates: U.S. Signals Policy Shift in Syria
Brian Cloughley
Hospital Slaughter and the US/NATO Propaganda Machine
John Walsh
For Vietnam: Artemisinin From China, Agent Orange From America
John Wight
No Moral High Ground for the West on Syria
Robert Fantina
Canadian Universities vs. Israeli Apartheid
Conn Hallinan
Portugal: Europe’s Left Batting 1000
John Feffer
Mouths Wide Shut: Obama’s War on Whistleblowers
Paul Craig Roberts
The Impulsiveness of US Power
Ron Jacobs
The Murderer as American Hero
Alex Nunns
“A Movement Looking for a Home”: the Meaning of Jeremy Corbyn
Philippe Marlière
Class Struggle at Air France
Binoy Kampmark
Waiting in Vain for Moderation: Syria, Russia and Washington’s Problem
Paul Edwards
Empire of Disaster
Xanthe Hall
Nuclear Madness: NATO’s WMD ‘Sharing’ Must End
Margaret Knapke
These Salvadoran Women Went to Prison for Suffering Miscarriages
Uri Avnery
Abbas: the Leader Without Glory
Halima Hatimy
#BlackLivesMatter: Black Liberation or Black Liberal Distraction?
Michael Brenner
Kissinger Revisited
Cesar Chelala
The Perverse Rise of Killer Robots
Halyna Mokrushyna
On Ukraine’s ‘Incorrect’ Past
Jason Cone
Even Wars Have Rules: a Fact Sheet on the Bombing of Kunduz Hospital
Walter Brasch
Mass Murders are Good for Business
William Hadfield
Sophistry Rising: the Refugee Debate in Germany
Christopher Brauchli
Why the NRA Profits From Mass Shootings
Hadi Kobaysi
How The US Uses (Takfiri) Extremists
Pete Dolack
There is Still Time to Defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership
Marc Norton
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
Andre Vltchek
Stop Millions of Western Immigrants!
David Rosen
If Donald Dump Was President
Dave Lindorff
America’s Latest War Crime
Ann Garrison
Sankarist Spirit Resurges in Burkina Faso
Franklin Lamb
Official Investigation Needed After Afghan Hospital Bombing
Linn Washington Jr.
Wrongs In Wine-Land
Ronald Bleier
Am I Drinking Enough Water? Sneezing’s A Clue
Charles R. Larson
Prelude to the Spanish Civil War: Eduard Mendoza’s “An Englishman in Madrid”
David Yearsley
Papal Pop and Circumstance
October 08, 2015
Michael Horton
Why is the US Aiding and Enabling Saudi Arabia’s Genocidal War in Yemen?