Poor David Brooks – fretting about rich people again and “the social barriers that segregate the lower 80 percent” from the upper 20 in “How a cloistered upper-middle class raises barriers to social mobility” (July 13). These barriers apparently include tastes in tea, wine, baby carriages and sandwiches with unpronounceable names.
He recounts “insensitively” taking a friend with “only a high school education” (horrors) into a overly-precious sandwich shop and watching her “freeze up” when confronted with menu ingredients like soppressata and capicollo. What does David do about his friend’s feeling out of place? He asks her if she wants to leave and takes her to a Mexican restaurant. In other words, he confirms her “fear of humiliation and confusion,” her misplaced feeling of inferiority, by bustling her out of the sandwich shop to another restaurant (where presumably she would not be intimidated by ingredients like chorizo and carne asada).
How much better to have demonstrated that it’s OK to ask questions about the puffed-up menu. Even better to have laughed at the menu together – “ham and cheese on steroids!” – and to have invited her to share his amusement at the universal human tendency to preen over the silliest things.
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‘Democracy is hard’
Regarding “Americans are burning down the house” (July 12): Several recent studies have purported to show that American society is no longer in love with “traditional democratic values” such as the belief in human rights, tolerance, free elections, free speech and a free press. Historically people have often shortchanged those ideals. The promise of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” certainly did not extend to the 18 percent of the population who belonged to someone else, or women. Less than 3 percent of the total population voted in the election of 1796. In 1798, the Sedition Act limited free speech and press. There was certainly censorship of the press and the mail in the antebellum south. Lincoln suspended habeas corpus. During the Great War, the government again passed sedition and espionage acts to eliminate opposition to that war. Then there were Jim Crow, the KKK, McCarthyism and the “Speaker Ban.”
American democratic values have never been by default, but something that the people have had to fight to maintain and expand. Leaving the Constitutional Convention, Franklin told the crowd they had created “a republic, if you can keep it.” Can Americans keep it, or have they become too intolerant and lazy to continue the struggle? Authoritarianism is easy, democracy is hard.