disparaging “the establishment” -- 11/29/21
Today's selection -- from Inside Money by Zachary Karabell. In the 1950s, leaders on Wall Street, in Washington, DC, and at America’s largest companies were esteemed. But with the escalation of the Vietnam War in the 1960s, these same positions of leadership were indicted in the popular imagination, and referred to pejoratively as “the Establishment”:
"The term ‘the Establishment’ entered popular culture sometime in the 1960s. An English journalist named Henry Fairlie, who wrote for London papers in the 1950s and then The New Yorker, took credit for coining the phrase as a way of describing 'the matrix of official and social relations within which power is exercised.' Fairlie also credited Ralph Waldo Emerson with offering an even earlier iteration. By the late sixties, the term had permeated pop culture as a catchall for a close-knit community of influence that spanned K Street in Washington, Wall Street in New York and the name-brand corporations of Main Street. However defined, the Establishment was not composed of everyone. It was them, not us; it was the privileged few, not the working class; it was the Ivy League, and not the young men sent to Vietnam.
"It was not just the cultural left that interpreted events through this new and unfavorable lens. In 1965, Arthur Schlesinger, who had served in the Kennedy White House as an aide, wrote in A Thousand Days, his paean to JFK, that 'the New York financial and legal community was the heart of the American Establishment. Its household deities were Henry Stimson and Elihu Root; its present leaders, Robert A. Lovett and John J. McCloy; its front organizations, the Rockefeller, Ford and Carnegie Foundations and the Council on Foreign Relations.' Soon after Schlesinger penned that observation, Lyndon Johnson, whose genius at Washington politics was unfortunately matched by his maladroitness at foreign policy, convened a working group at the White House of just these men, who had been present at the creation and who designed and then maintained the structures of the early Cold War. Johnson's national security adviser, McGeorge Bundy, another product of Groton and Yale, dubbed them 'the Wise Old Men.' Their advice on Vietnam, however, only deepened the quagmire. Lovett urged Johnson to double down. Johnson, hearing the same from McNamara and his generals and deeply worried that he would go down in history as the president who lost a war, was all too ready to take that advice.
"The Wise Men crystallized the reaction against them. As we’ve seen, throughout the nineteenth century, attitudes toward wealth and power in the United States oscillated wildly between adulation and condemnation. The turn against Wall Street and against the makers of money in the sixties, however, added a new line to the script. Before, in the 1840s and 1930s, it was greed, speculation and then economic collapse that triggered the backlash. In the 1960s, it was the disastrous consequences of the influence these groups were seen as wielding both vis-a-vis domestic inequities and international wars. The same men who had graced the covers of Time in the 1940s and 1950s and who were hailed as servants of the public good and defenders of national security against the communist threat were, by the late 1960s, increasingly seen as defenders of systems that enriched them to the detriment of the country. They were held responsible for the intractable war in Vietnam by the commutative property that said that if they exercised power for self-interest, then the war in Vietnam must be serving their interests.
"They were also indicted in popular imagination for their culture of secrecy, on the assumption that secrecy, especially in government, masked goals that could not be defended in public and behavior that would be seen as immoral in the light of day."