Recently, I discovered a coworker who just has an associates degree holding The New York Times. Instinctively, I understood that they were planning to use it to pee on like a crated Labrador, their two years of junior college slumming clearly leaving them with little working knowledge of indoor plumbing, or where to direct the neon-green Mountain Dew micturition of the lower classes. But as I gestured to help them arrange the broadsheet on the floor and offered to relax their bladder by soothingly expounding upon the ingenious early sewers of the Minoans, suddenly their face froze, and I could tell from their primitive grunting that, to my surprise, they were actually trying to read it.
Specifically, they were pointing their humanities-schooled sausage fists at the latest column by David Brooks, America’s preeminent analyst of our moral decline according to whatever he read or watched on TV or overheard in a Starbucks that day. “How We Are Ruining America” it was titled. “Hmm, yes,” I said, knowingly. And seeing as I have a bachelor’s degree, once gave money to NPR, and own a pretty nice sweater, I volunteered to interpret Brooks’ words for them.
David Brooks has read a book, I said with fatherly patience. A book is like a meme with very many words. I explained that this book was written by a man named Richard Reeves, called Dream Hoarders, and that this book was full of very many complex ideas about the ways in which America’s wealth inequality has become a self-perpetuating system as the privileged classes create structural barriers—including zoning restrictions and college admissions biases that ensure their kids become elites as well, thus making it difficult for poorer people to achieve their own class mobility.
I could tell from the furrowing of my coworker’s community college-graduating Neanderthal brow that these concepts were perhaps too complicated to address in a mere conversation or 800-word column, so I skipped ahead to the part about the sandwiches:
Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.
A-ha, I said to my pitiable friend who has never seen a Fellini film and thinks oolong is a Disney villain. Here Mr. Brooks is illustrating that those “structural barriers” we were just discussing “are less important than the informal social barriers that segregate the lower 80 percent,” whose ignorance of fine meats stands between them and true affluence.
I explained how this was just like the time I squired them to a Subway and they didn’t know what an avocado was so they started crying. Great, phlegmy sobs, like the kind heaved from the bosom of Lady Liberty, lifting high her lantern as she welcomes the wretched to the shores of opportunity and great sandwiches, only to see them starve because they don’t know the right words for fancy ham.
“It’s okay,” I said to my own adopted huddled mass yearning to achieve a certificate of vocational training. “We’ll just go get a burrito and empty it in a Ruffles bag.”
As I explained to my grateful, greasy compatriot then—and as David Brooks so finely elucidated for us now—it was not their fault that the nation’s deeply entrenched class divisions fostered by systems built on institutionalized racism and economic disparity have left them so feeling marginalized. They just need to pull themselves by their Wonder Bread bags, stop eating gas station nachos, and get hip to David Foster Wallace, because that’s what’s really standing in their way:
To feel at home in opportunity-rich areas, you’ve got to understand the right barre techniques, sport the right baby carrier, have the right podcast, food truck, tea, wine and Pilates tastes, not to mention possess the right attitudes about David Foster Wallace, child-rearing, gender norms and intersectionality.
Indeed, I said single-malted-scotch-ily. I explained how this column serves as yet another clarion call alerting us to America’s slow sinking into a morass of cultural decline, which David Brooks and others like us—we who thoughtfully chew our piquant charcuterie while brooding over the Proustian reveries of ourselves it inspires—can only look upon it sadly, gazing down at our bologna-smeared consorts and lamenting the many bloviating, condescending, overpaid butchers of language and meat that are driving us apart.
My barely educated friend nodded sadly in agreement at Brooks’ wise column, then took a giant burrito-and-GED shit on it.