Friday, June 02, 2017

Hi, I'm David, and I Don't Drink Almond Milk

Michael Tomasky gives us the latest installment of an everflowering series: crudely caricaturing "coastal elites" while purporting to educate them on middle Americans:
[E]lite liberals need to recognize a fundamental truth: All of these people in middle America, even the actual liberals, have very different sensibilities than elite liberals who live on the coasts.
First of all, middle Americans go to church. Not temple. Church. God and Jesus Christ play important roles in their lives....
Second, politics simply doesn’t consume middle Americans the way it does elites on the coasts.... They talk kids, and local gossip, and pop culture, and sports....
Third, their daily lives are pretty different from the lives of elite liberals. Few of them buy fair trade coffee or organic almond milk. Some of them served in the armed forces. Some of them own guns, and like to shoot them and teach their kids how to shoot them. Some of them hold jobs in the service of global capital and feel proud of their work.
Fourth, they’re patriotic in the way that most Americans are patriotic. They don’t feel self-conscious saluting the flag. They don’t like it when people bad-mouth our country. They believe that America is mostly good, and that the rest of the world should look more like America.
I find these very frustrating, not because of what they say about middle Americans, but because of what they say about me -- born inside the beltway on the east coast, currently living in the ultimate liberal bubble of Berkeley on the west coast.

I don't drink almond milk (I've tried it, once, and think it's disgusting). I don't buy fair trade coffee or sip lattes of any variety. I've fired a gun, and while I don't have any real interest in doing it again, I don't begrudge others who do. I have friends from both high school and college who served in the armed forces. I can chat pop culture with the best of them (ask me about my breakdown of  Gordon Ramsay shows). There is plenty that I find great about America, and am quite happy to kvell about.

Admittedly, I talk politics a lot (I am a political blogger), and I go to synagogue, not church. But I just got back from a funeral (my fiance's grandmother) which was held at a church in a town of less than 2,000 in rural Minnesota (Goodhue County went for Trump by 18, FYI). I survive such locales just fine. And while I always knew of how important her Christian faith was to her life, when I found out that she had specifically included me in her deathbed prayers, I was deeply moved.

Maybe this feels like protesting too much. But it's not just about me. It's also about the folks here at UC-Berkeley -- yes, hyper-lefty Berkeley -- that falsify that coastal bubble hypothesis.

When I started at Berkeley Law, my most liberal student was an alum of the University of South Carolina, and my most conservative was literally the scion of a wine dynasty. In between I taught decorated combat veterans and the daughter of an inland empire county sheriff. This is typical. UC-Berkeley is one of the world's great public universities, and our students accordingly come to us from all over the state and all over the world. They come from suburban Orange County, yes, but also inland ranch towns and impoverished LA neighborhoods. It is no surprise at all that Berkeley ranks ninth in the New York Times college access index measuring economic diversity amongst enrolled students, nor that UC schools comprise the entirety of the top 5.

So maybe we're asking the wrong questions. We know that students come from a wide range of backgrounds and geographic locations and pedigrees to attend to Berkeley. Indeed, I suspect that more Berkeley students and alumni know a sizeable chunk of folks who grew up in small towns than persons who grew up in small towns know a sizeable chunk of folks who attended schools like Berkeley. And we know that the resulting campus culture here at Berkeley is very liberal. And yes, self-selection plays a part in that, as does the relative ideological uniformity of the faculty. But maybe, just maybe, it's also evidence that when you expose people to a rich tapestry of human diversity encompassing people of a wide range of backgrounds, hometowns, and pedigrees -- the result is a tendency towards liberalism.

The fact is, our students aren't born on the Berkeley campus. Some of them come from those rural towns (in California or elsewhere). Or they don't, but their parents did. Or their best friend. Or their roommate. Or their future spouse. To act like Berkeley students have never met anyone who doesn't eat gluten-free is a grotesque parody of who actually comprises our "bubble".

So of course we should respect each and every part of America -- urban, suburban, and rural, north and south, coastal and middle. But the "coastal elites" who supposedly sniff down upon middle Americans from atop their soy lattes? They weren't born in a Starbucks. They might have been born in that small town in rural Minnesota that they supposedly cannot possibly understand.

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