Shaffer: The Ordinary American

My fellow cognoscenti, a specter is haunting the East Coast — the specter of the ordinary American. Middle-class, Christian, sometimes mid-western, invariably poorly dressed, he has the nerve to have his own opinions about things, without our permission, without even consulting us. As such, he poses a grave danger to our democracy, nay, to our very pluralistic society.

You thought you were safe at Yale. But you were wrong. At High Street I spotted a flyer welcoming me to services at the Episcopal Church. Episcopalians are similar to Catholics — every bit as dangerous, but without all of the darling ethnic Italians. That 8.5 x 11-inch Anglo-Saxon sheet of paper was shoving its religion down our throats, silencing dissent, depriving us all of liberty of conscience. We’ll have cameras in our bedrooms soon.

They have refused to stay in the Midwest where we put them. The Ordinary Americans are within the gates.

Sure, I’ve never met an evangelical, I don’t really know any Ordinary Americans — so what? It’s safe to assume that they’re all deeply prejudiced. I’ve made no effort to get to know any of them, it’s true — but that’s because I’m sure they’d judge me. I just can’t stand the thought of them, hateful as they no doubt are!

I saw one just the other day. Let me tell you the story. I was sitting in the dining hall. I could tell he was from the middle of the country, maybe Christian, from his too, too chipper smile. He greeted me. In order to preserve my religious liberty and free thought, I didn’t reply. I avoided eye contact. But throughout the meal I knew his eyes were running up and down my neck, judging me.

He wore Polo, not Brooks Brothers like my friends. Doesn’t he feel his inferiority? Doesn’t he know how the upper-middle class people look down on the mere middle-middle class? Doesn’t he realize that where we’re from the people from the good parts of town look down on the church-going parts of town? He probably voted for George Bush. Taking away my religious liberty was more important for him than food stamps.

I knew that he was twirling his crucifix between his fingers, thinking of the perfect moment to drive it through my unchaste heart. I knew he was watching me read The New York Times, that he could tell how open-minded I was, and that this made him furious.

I couldn’t take it anymore. I stood up, turned to him, shouted “Bigot!” and dashed out, proud of speaking truth to power.

They gather for weekly rallies called “Bible Studies.” We don’t know what goes on at these. I dare not try to infiltrate them. But one thing is certain — they’re full of hate.

The evangelicals are gaining power, dominating traditional paths to power like Yale University, ruling the editorial boards of our most influential papers. They have such a strangle-hold on our national discourse that nobody even gets away with making fun of them on late-night television. They’re stifling free speech, indeed.

They need to be controlled. After Major Hasan shot up Fort Hood, our chauvinistic troops were raring to beat up their all of their non-Christian comrades — until we heroically intervened, by preemptively condemning their bigotry, even before we had any evidence thereof. Most Ordinary Americans would go around committing hate crimes regularly if we didn’t remind them not to. That’s why they voted for Scott Brown. They hope Scott Brown will beat up Barack Obama because they all think he is a Muslim. They’re paranoid like that.

We’ve tried to get them to be more open-minded. We use our movies, our blogs and our universities to ridicule their pastimes, their values, their guns and religion and their accents. We strip their lifestyle and sensibilities of dignity — for their own good. But when we offer them our benevolent leadership, to liberate them from their ridiculous superstition and diction, they don’t seem interested. I don’t get it.

We try to show them the errors of their ways by calling them misogynists when they vote against abortion rights. But, strangely, this doesn’t seem to persuade them — even the women. I don’t understand!

We call them racist when they dare tea party against progressive government expansion. But that doesn’t seem to persuade them either — even though, unlike us, they actually have black neighbors. I don’t get it!

How dare they not vote the way we do? How dare they resist assimilation to our culture, our way of thinking? Who do they think they are? What right do they have to their own values? I thought we lived in a democracy, not an oligarchic theocracy!

Why can’t they just learn to be as loving and tolerant and pluralistic and open-minded and free thinking and loving and non-judgmental as we are?

I just don’t get it.

Matthew Shaffer is a senior in Davenport College.


  • tc’12

    amazing. thank you. i hear this hypocrisy too often.

  • The Extraordinary American

    Oh Shaffer. Nice try. Where to begin?

    First: I know this is satire. Let’s get that out of the way.

    But before you satirize east-coast elites, at least get a good handle on what we entail. Episcopalians are, along with Presbyterians, the most respectable brand of Protestantism. Real old-money elites aren’t atheists, we’re culturally (but not spiritually) Christian. Our disdain for evangelicals, while comparable to what you’ve described, does not extend to traditional Wasp denominations. On the contrary, in fact.

    We also have no problem with ordinary Americans posing a “grave danger” to “our democracy.” We don’t like democracy, remember? Democracy is a way for the ordinary man to sneak into office and mess things up, with guns and the aforementioned excess of religion. We like oligarchy, but by definition no Ordinary American has ever been a threat to THAT.

    Furthermore, you include some ill-conceived mention in here about Polo sticking out as an inferior to Brooks. Polo is simply Brooks in a more casual setting, and on the high end can, in fact, be more expensive. Polo is part of the family, Shaffer, and is still well above the sartorial tastes of the Ordinary American. No, if this were accurate, he’d be wearing Abercrombie or American Eagle… the kind of thing public school kids from Minnesota consider “preppy.” See, THAT gives me shivers, not someone wearing Polo.

    You were close, here, Shaffer. Hit a few nails. But at the end of the day, the problem is that you’re not satirizing the real elites… you’re satirizing nouveau riche liberals. You’re satirizing people who haven’t grown into their money because they’ve only had it for one or two generations, and thus are still ashamed of it. People who drive luxury cars but condemn their peers for not giving money to the flower lady and throw “parties for a cause” to simultaneously boost their social footprint and be recognized as budding philanthropists. People who spend lots of money to look poor. People who still talk to their butlers, if they have them, so they can sleep at night.

    In short, you’re talking about the dishonest rich. They do what they can, but they get the whole noblesse oblige act wrong (not enough distance from the source, see), and try a tad too hard with their pre-fab houses in the Hamptons and forever unbaptized topsiders.

    But really, you shouldn’t worry about them too much. Give them another century and they’ll grow up a little. They always do.

  • Ralph

    I think this would have made a very funny ypu speech. The transition to print, eh alright

  • @#2

    You’re right, but that’s exactly why I interpret this as a satire of the new upper-middle class, not the real old money elite–the kinds of people who like to call themselves elite because their parents went to second-tier colleges and live in affluent suburbs, who have enough status anxiety to insist on prefering brooks brothers to polo.

    The word ‘elite’ has been so abused in our society that when people talk about the ‘liberal elite,’ they’re not talking about super-wealthy third generation Elis. They’re talking about families making 200k who ostentatiously differentiate themselves from their former middle class peers with smug jokes about religious believers and guns.

    Old money families are cool. It’s the kind of kids who call themselves liberal elites who are as annoying as hell.

  • re: #2

    of course they don’t pose a threat to our democracy–they’re the demos, so definitionally they can’t. but how many times did we hear it repeated in the bush years that religious voters were undermining our democracy? the liberal elite just kept repeating it, even though it had nothing to do with reality. so you’re right, the elite dont’ really want democracy, they just say they do.

  • 2011

    Great article. The important point for me wasn’t the distinction between new and old elite (honestly, as a first-generation comfortably upper-middle-class citizen, I don’t even understand the distinction), but the attempt to expose the unbelievable closed-mindedness of those who try to paint themselves as the most open-minded and tolerant. Sure, we accept any religious faith…as long as you’re not really a Christian. Any political views, sure…as long as you didn’t vote for Bush. Liberal closed-mindedness is absolutely stunning, and the alarmingly successful attempt of upper-class liberal America to portray itself as the *only* open-minded force in society is even more stunning.

  • @#6

    Agreed. It’s a fascinating irony that “open-minded” is defined a priori as “agreeing with me.”

  • Old Timer

    No, no, no – well, perhaps some yeses, but mostly no – you are most of you forgetting that the bright, firm, and decidedly disciplined ethic that made this country and formed the backbone of its modern glory was not the property of the rich or poor, but the mindset of individuals who said what they meant and meant what they said. They had no regard for a merely wealthy elite, and scoffed at such vain one-upmanship. These were the extraordinary Americans, and what made them extraordinary was that they were ordinary Americans.

    Those times are no longer. Instead we have you misguided apologists, of whichever class or religion, full of sound and fury, trying so very hard over everything other than that little bit that counts.