Read also: “Mad Men:” The Dispossessed Elite on TV, by Roman Bernard
Is there anything more debased than a dying aristocracy? In last night’s Democratic debate we saw the decline of the late American WASP as represented in one man, Lincoln Chafee. Scion of one of Rhode Island’s first families, and Ivy League educated, Chafee boasts the pedigree of America’s dying rulers.
In him we see the worst traits of the former Anglo-American elite in full force. An identification with “The Other” that goes from praising Hugo Chavez to a strange proposal to switching to the metric system as a “symbolic” gesture to the world. Chafee’s obsession with “fair play” goes to the point of masochism, as we saw in his pathetic attempt to explain his voting record and his constant crowing about his “high ethical standards.” While the old WASP virtues of “fair play,” “tolerance,” and “open mindedness” are fine in moderation (and in an homogenous, high-trust society), they are a mere epitaph in the America the WASPs helped give away.
Chafee seems to have taken every advantage in his life and squandered it. As a young man, he turned his back on his privilege to become a horse farrier in Canada. As a governor, he chose not to run for reelection at the first signs he was growing unpopular. Like his class as a whole, Chafee took the family silver and exchanged it for fool’s gold.
“I think that was a bit rough,” was Mr. Chafee’s attempted defense of some past vote. What those words really are is the last gasp of a dying breed, which goes out not in tragedy but in farce.
America’s dying ruling class is becoming who they decided to be, and that is Lincoln Davenport Chafee, a punch line writ large.