When you grow up in 1990s Pikesville, Maryland, you know a lot of overachievers, and if you’re not one of them, you became more comfortable in their company than you’d have ever thought it possible. You begin to wonder how you came from a place where so many people seemed marked from birth for the super-class, 90% of the world cannot even fathom the potential for as much influence and privilege as most American Jews Bar Mitzvahed in the 90s had every reason to expect would be ours from cradle to grave; privilege to which our parents knew nothing like until adulthood, our grandparents only ascended to in dotage, and our peasant great-grandparents could only imagine.
When it came time for the young Jews of northwest Baltimore to go out into the world, they all realized that better jobs awaited them outside of Baltimore, and barely any of them even hesitated. Hardly five percent of the creme de la creme stayed here, where are they now? DC, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston… anywhere that can afford them the opportunities Baltimore can’t. Jews of my generation were perhaps the best educated people to ever grow up in Baltimore, and when they left, they took with them their talents, their knowledge, their resources, and their skills for problem solving. What they’ve left behind is a city that desperately needs them.
It’s a time honored tradition for Jewish parents to complain about their kids’ laziness, but the urgency among my generation of Jews to achieve is something unheard of even to our parents, let alone to the rest of America. Most American families reached the pinnacle of their earning power in the late sixties, and since then there’s been a slow, steady, humiliating decline in their standard of living. Most of 2019’s upper-class American gentiles had great-grandparents who lived the same way. On the other hand, the average Jew could only reach his top earning power at the beginning of the 1970s, and since then the earning power of the average American Jews has only increased in real terms. We are the only ethnic group in America for whom this is true. Jews were the final ethnic group to reach the American upper classes, and the moment after we did, we helped goyim slam the door shut.
For college and grad school, most of our parents went to state schools, or at best, to local private universities. But our parents lived their Baby Boomer lives during the one generation when a boss could look on a resume whose distinguishing feature was a public alma mater, and nevertheless would consider the candidate on par with any Ivy Leaguer. What did our parents do with that privilege? Did they learn the lesson that a fairer playing field is useful to everybody in the world, especially Jews? No, they used their greater opportunities to send their children to better schools – no longer public schools or Yeshivas or city/state universities but Jewish day schools, private schools, Ivy League universities, private liberal arts colleges. A new elite was born that includes Jews rather than keeps us out, and whenever this new elite falls, the gentiles will be fine, they’ll simply use the power they’ve always held to put things back to the way they were. The only members of the elite who could suffer widespread retribution will be, as usual, us.
For a kid who almost didn’t graduate high school, it astonishes me how many elites are peers and acquaintances, many of which I knew from as far back as early childhood — well over a hundred Ivy Leaguers, probably a couple dozen self-made millionaires, multiple holders of impressive government appointments — former and present, some of the most influential journalists in America, and a new congressman.
Is the average among them smarter than the average person? Of course. It’s nearly impossible to get America’s best jobs or educations if you’re dumb, unless you eventually become President. But over the course of a lifetime, you meet just as many, if not many more, intelligent people for whom an Ivy League education and six-figure salary is never an option; and the primary distinction between elites and most non-elites is not their intelligence, it’s their well-adjustedness. Life works out for some people better than it does for others, and for the first time in 2000 years, life is working out for Jews. In the company of many Jews in my generation, I often feel as though I’ve time-traveled to another era, because many of the young Jews I know are the only young people I’ve ever met who don’t feel the urgency of a world beginning to catch fire.
The rest of America is feeling the squeeze of a country for whom opportunity is not what it was. Fifty years ago we were more than 50% of the world’s GDP, there is no way for most Americans to have as much hope for the future as previous generations did. Is it any wonder why political radicalism and partisanship is so prevalent today? Everyone in America agrees that the status quo is lacking, but the status quo is always controlled by whoever makes up the establishment. Jews are so newly part of the establishment that few Jews want to rock the boat and reform anything, but those who do not make peaceful reforms possible make violent revolution inevitable.
The only people willing to challenge today’s status quo exist at the political extremes. Whether left- or right-of-center, today’s members of the political Center put the energy that should be reserved for advancing a society into advancing their prestige. Potentially great scientists became bankers, potentially great teachers became lawyers, potentially great public servants became entrepreneurs, potentially great artists went into PR and advertising. And behind every one of these career decisions were parents and grandparents who wanted the naches of knowing that all their decades hard work paid off – to have a kid who goes to Columbia or UPenn is not just a status symbol, it means that means that somebody in the family got the unlimited opportunities you never did, your parents never did, your ancestors never did. But now that we have those unlimited opportunities, the question becomes: what should we do with them?
We are now the leaders of America, but if people of elite status are not present in the wider world to lead, then the only places the under-serviced can find the guidance they seek are from radical organizations: social justice non-profits and the Church, left-wing blogs and right-wing radio. What all these radical organizations share with each other is a seething hostility to vast swaths of the Jewish community. Whether the hostility is to the Zionism of non-leftists, or to the Liberalism of non-rightists, it is a propensity to challenge the status quo so greatly that anyone who does not see the world through their rubric is an enemy. If Judaism wants to to stay one people, we have to challenge the status quo, together, from the Center. It may sound like a contradiction in terms to challenge the status quo from the Center, but it is only by challenging the status quo from the center that any meaningful reform has a prayer of happening.
Every day, it becomes more clear that the Trump Administration is not run by diabolical cabal but by the dumbest men on the planet. And even the world’s stupidest people could sail over all the credentials in the world by doing the one thing meritocrats would never do — the Trump campaign challenged the status quo. Many things made Trump possible, but the only one that made the Trump Administration inevitable was that elite people of merit who should use their privileges to lead us used their merits to solidify their position.
Jews today have to face facts: a vastly disproportionate number of us are in the upper class, and however many thousands of individual exceptions there are, we Jews have not given back sufficiently to America, the country which gave us everything. We made it here, and wherever you stand on the political spectrum, it’s time to adopt the mentality of responsible aristocrats for whom giving back to others is more important than looking out for ourselves. Our history is every bit as illustrious and distinguished as any Mayflower WASP, and like any good aristocrat, we are as defined by our ancestors as we are by our future. The responsible aristocrat does not worry about self-advancement, he’s already made it. The responsible aristocrat’s mission in life is noblesse oblige: the responsibility of the privileged to look out for those who don’t have privileges. The watchwords of a proper aristocrat are duty, service, responsibility to the community, and most important of all: sacrifice. Marxists like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn will never appreciate the contributions of aristocrats, seeing it merely as a bone the privileged throw the lower classes to maintain their privilege. Plutocrats like Donald Trump and Bibi Netanyahu will always seethe at any demand for the privileged to sacrifice an inch of their position. But if you want your grandchildren to keep even a small part of what we’ve earned, this is the change in mentality we need to adapt.
You know the alternative, it’s happened in Jewish history a dozen times already…