“Whatever happens in November,” wrote journalist Charles McGrath ’68 in 2004, “the president will be a Yale man — though that term doesn’t mean quite what it used to.” McGrath meant, of course, that the president was either going to be John Kerry ’66 — the member of Skull and Bones who did not have a single A on his transcript — or George W. Bush ’68 — the entitled scion of a Connecticut Brahmin family, a member of DKE, another Bonesman.
To McGrath, times had changed. Before 1963, the Yale Man was “a Cole Porter-ish sort of fellow, stylish and well connected, who spoke with just a hint of a lockjaw accent.” He wore a blazer and a tie. He didn’t need good grades to get into Yale, and he didn’t need them leaving Yale, either.
Everything began changing in the mid-1960s, when the Admissions Office began seeking out students with higher standardized test scores. In 1967, the admissions office changed its standards again, in an effort to reach out to less wealthy students, those from public schools. Finally, in 1969, Yale admitted women. As Kathrin Lassila ’81 wrote in the Yale Alumni Magazine in 2009, “When the college went coed, ‘Yale Man’ all but died” — the term itself would be replaced by the less formal “Yalie.”
Yalies, McGrath wrote in 2004, wear jeans and sneakers and flip-flops, and “to save their lives they couldn’t tell you the difference between a wingtip and a Weejun.” Yale Men were old and wrinkled, a dying breed, the Dink Stoverses and C. Montgomery Burnses, only brought out when the school needed donations.
And yet, some things don’t die so easily. I believe that, in 2015, the new Yale Man is back, in all his bigoted glory. He is back for reasons I will explain at the end. But the following is a profile of the New Yale Man.
The New Yale Man is born choking on a silver spoon in a New York hospital. His parents drive him — I’m calling this one “him,” though the New Yale Man can be a woman too — back to their spacious home in the suburbs. Father is a banker or a lawyer; mother can be too. His parents went to top schools. Yale Boy grows up attending private schools, or maybe just well-funded suburban public ones. He doesn’t think of himself as rich — just comfortable. Yale Teen is a bit worried as he applies to college, but things always just have a way of working out for him. The interview goes well; he is charismatic and personable. He has good hair. Presidential hair.
When he gets to Yale, New Yale Man majors in economics and joins a few clubs. He wears salmon pants and polo shirts, and doesn’t get why others don’t do so as well. He golfs. He’s like a little grandfather, but with so much potential. He doesn’t receive financial aid, obviously, but doesn’t talk about that. His grades are decent. His Woads attendance is stellar. He joins a society to make connections, or, as he calls them, friends. He takes Grand Strategy, or something like that.
He hears people complain about the Yale administration, about financial aid, about microagressions, but he doesn’t understand. Nor does he care. These whiners have a few good points, he concedes, but they’re just so belligerent about them. They’re blowing things completely out of proportion, he thinks, silently. It’s easy for him to dismiss things that don’t affect him in the least.
He wants to get a job at Goldman, but doesn’t, so he goes and works for Boston Consulting Group instead. He doesn’t understand why people constantly question his career choices. This is what father does, and since when is trying to make money somehow wrong? He’s vaguely uncomfortable, but cares less about this than about the money and status. He smokes a cigar with his father on graduation day. Then it’s off to that self-perpetuating privileged world he calls home, again. Sure, he’ll vote Democrat, but he’s “pro-business.” He believes in “the markets.” He marries, of course. His son will go to Yale, too.
Even though the Yale Man is back, something has changed. Something important is missing from his repertoire: any sense of social responsibility.
In the middle of the twentieth century, for instance, the rich paid more than 90 percent in income taxes, and many of them accepted this as their due. The privileged served in the armed forces; they lionized public service. Of course, that reality was paternalistic and intentionally exclusive and stunningly bigoted, but in some ways the privileged philosophy of yesteryear was better than what it is today. Now, the rich, the privileged, the Yale Men, have lost any sense of social responsibility. They have abandoned the ideal of the post-war boom and returned to a gilded time when a Social Darwinistic philosophy confirmed for them their inherent superiority. Yale confirms this for them, too. They are privileged, and they deserve to be so, or so they believe. They deserve their advantages. They are the New Yale Men.
Scott Stern is a senior in Branford College. His column runs on Mondays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.