Tag Archives: class

After H.W., Bush League

George H.W. Bush died Friday, and watching the various valedictories and retrospectives of his life and Presidency has provided a jarring contrast between our 41st President and the embarrassing, ignorant buffoon who currently sits in the Oval Office.

H.W. was the last President to have served in the armed forces; he was a decorated Navy pilot, shot down in the Pacific in 1944. (I can just hear Trump proclaiming that he prefers people who weren’t shot down…)

Evidently, H.W. didn’t have bone spurs…

Our 41st President was a skilled bureaucrat and diplomat, credited with (as the NYTimes put it) “a nuanced handling of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the liberation of Eastern Europe.”

I seriously doubt Trump could either spell or define “nuance,” and “skill” is a term that I’ve not ever seen applied to him (or for that matter, to anyone in his cabinet).

H.W. was far from a perfect President, but he was elected at a time when most Americans still valued relevant experience and admired, rather than disdained, knowledge and intellectual capacity. I met him once, during his Presidency, when he came to Indianapolis and met with then-Mayor Bill Hudnut and a small group of his advisors in the Mayor’s conference room.  Bush had no advance notice of the issues we would raise in our discussion, or the questions we would pose, but he fielded all of them with informed, thoughtful (and grammatical! and coherent!) answers. He was impressive–another word unlikely ever to be attached to Trump.

By far the greatest contrast, however– the greatest distance between the two–involves that ineffable quality we call “class.” H.W. was classy; Obama was classy. (Clinton was charismatic, and as often noted, George W. seemed like a guy some people –not I– would like to have a beer with, but neither displayed much class.)

Perhaps the best example of H.W.’s classiness and grace–and the most telling contrast between him and the petulant brat who currently holds office–was the letter he left for Bill Clinton, who had just defeated him, depriving him of a second term in a hard-fought political campaign.

Dear Bill,

When I walked into this office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that, too.

I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described.

There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.

You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.

Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.

Good luck—

George

The word “class” has fallen into disrepute, mostly because it has come to be connected only to class conflict, class warfare, and classism, but we would be well-advised to remember its other meaning, as a term denoting grace, maturity and human decency.

As I watched the various news shows discussing 41’s life and his Presidency, it was impossible to escape the contrast being drawn (in several cases, deliberately) between the good man we’d just lost and the pathetic, narcissistic wannabe who is defecating daily on our nation’s ideals.

Trump is bush league–but not remotely in H.W. Bush’s league.

Uncomfortable Questions, Depressing Answers

In a recent INforefront post, James Madison asked some uncomfortable questions about the role class distinctions play in (theoretically classless) America.

Does the Land of the Free have class distinctions? Are such distinctions inevitable? Defensible?

American notions of class aren’t grounded in lineage and tradition—at least, not to the extent they are elsewhere. Class in America gets confused with concepts of meritocracy and echoes of Calvinism, the belief that earthly success was a sign of God’s favor and one’s  “chosen-ness.”

The conviction that material wealth was evidence of moral merit was accompanied by the conclusion that poverty must signal moral defect. Over the years, these doctrinal roots of our belief in the comparative worth of rich and poor was lost, subsumed into a secular, class-based proposition: poor folks are lazy “takers” who lack “middle-class values.”

In a culture that celebrates (fast-disappearing) meritocracy and social mobility, it’s easy to conclude that poverty is a result of class-based attitudes and characteristics. And of course, if you’re privileged, it’s satisfying to attribute your good fortune to individual merit rather than the fact you were born (with the “right” race, religion, gender and sexual orientation) into a family with the wherewithal to feed, clothe, educate and endow you.

These attitudes foster policies that favor the fortunate, diminish the middle class, and make social mobility virtually impossible for the working poor.

There will always be winners and losers. There will always be some people who work harder than others, who are smarter or more entrepreneurial and deserve to do better. But a society that confuses individual worth with money and social status is a class-based society.

Right now, unfortunately, that describes America.