My pre-confession: I love The Atlantic magazine. It’s my favorite. I just renewed my annual subscription with nary a complaint. Hey, I do get the academic rate, but still. It’s the only periodical I tend to read cover to cover, or at least close to that. Last month there was a terrific article by staff writer David Packer called “The Four Americas.” Of them, I clearly fit into the category he called “Smart America.” Sounds good, right? Well not so fast! This month’s edition (September 2021) has a possibly even better article by contributing writer David Brooks, of whom I have long been a fan. Entitled “Blame the Bobos,” in it Brooks argues that “the creative class was supposed to foster progressive values and economic growth. Instead we got resentment, alienation, and endless political disfunction.”
The “creative class” bears a startling resemblance to Packer’s Smart America. Brooks calls us—he thankfully includes himself—the Bobos. His point is that by our disrespectful dislike, even hatred, of those less educated, more rural, and less cerebral than us, many of whom are Trump supporters—we have helped push them into conspiracy theories and extreme right-wing positions. Per Brooks, we self-congratulating smartypantses need to get over ourselves and treat other Americans as fellow human beings with not-unreasonable grudges against us. Disrespect after all fosters resentment.
Now to my actual confession. Not only do I fit Brooks’ Bobo profile to a tee, but like my fellow New Yorkers, both my father and Donald Trump, I give people I don’t like disparaging nicknames. Take one of the aquafit instructors at our Rec Center. Granted, she does have a disturbing voice, raised mightily to assure that we elders can hear her instructions, but at late middle age, she doesn’t have the slim, muscular figure I would expect from a professional gym teacher. During her class I go into the cold-water laned pool and swim laps. I call this instructor “Petunia Pig.” Last night my psychotherapist wife brought up my unfortunate Bobo habit of hatefully putting down the people I don’t like. Didn’t I realize that in so doing I was simply contributing to the negativity of the field which was helping bring about the very behaviors I abhorred? I didn’t have to agree with everything these folks espoused, but, for the greater good, I needed to recognize that every human being deserves respect and that I should refrain from adding more dark clouds to an already overcast world. Recently she also noted my disturbing habit of micro-managing her, something my own mother did with me, which I always resented. As I mentioned to her this morning, I’m now working to decrease my habit of criticizing others. Getting rid of my tendency to micro-manage may take a little longer.