Every generation has an elite establishment. Past establishments have shunned entire groups of people not in line with their views. With hindsight, this system of elitism and denied access to power by past establishments seems clear. Today, it is not so clear.
The political leaders of today’s establishment rarely speak in parables. Instead, they speak in sound bites. And now the word civility is annoyingly on every educated person’s tongue.
Instead of solving social problems, society’s supposed best and brightest are concentrating on civility in rhetoric. In the wake of the Tuscon tragedy, the finger pointing is only getting worse.
Thirty years ago, in the midst of the civil rights movement, civility was not a cherished value, especially on college campuses.
The violent passion for justice was intertwined with sometimes violent words.
Harsh rhetoric became part of the hearty debate while simultaneously Americans became more socially liberated.
Enjoying their liberation from traditional values and glowing with pride over the social peace that they clumsily restored, students and activists soon became complacent and comfortable intellectuals who soon came to control most of the country’s public and private institutions.
They became today’s establishment.
Since then, they have failed to hold true to many of the promises that their generation made by showing a lackluster commitment to public service and morphing institutions to meet their needs.
I got goose bumps the first time I heard RFK’s 1968 speech on the “mindless menace of violence” and moments after the Tuscon tragedy broke, those goosebumps immediately came to mind.
Yet when I logged onto Facebook to post the words in that speech, I saw that already fingers were being pointed. Counter to what RFK said, the tragic day had already became a day for politics.
Before the fates of those involved were known or the last victim was laid to rest, accusations flew back and forth across the political spectrum.
It became obvious that, no matter what the truth actually was, the tea party and anti-establishment icons Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, were going to get a bad rap for a tragic event that had nothing to do with them.
The establishments, for all their peaceful words, were on the attack, and it wasn’t the first time.
It became clear you will be shunned if you are comfortable being and answering to workhorse leaders in authority; if you have a problem with the demeanor and attitudes of intellectuals.
You will also be shunned if you are honest about your convictions, your etiquette or your morality if they don’t fall into the establishment respectability.
It then occurred to me that Allegheny is a bastion of establishment values.
You will undoubtedly thrive here if none of my description of today’s anti-establishment fits you.
Our motto “unusual combinations” better describes the intertwining of innovative yuppie values combined with the unconventional gaudiness of counterculture.
The mix of the two value sets characterizes the cultural values of today’s establishment.
If you don’t fall into establishment respectability you will probably not fall into certain highly esteemed categories here at Allegheny.
You won’t be a fellow at Allegheny’s elitist, ego-driven Center for Political Participation.
Even if you are very active in the political arena, you won’t be welcome to frequent the office unless you subscribe to the establishment respectability.
You will probably still do what you can as a work horse for political participation here on campus, but you won’t receive the upward mobility that goes with the position.
You will plan events to foster a relationship with the Meadville community, partnering with other political groups on and off campus, while the Center worries more about how many newspapers their work appears in.
Bottom line, you will be less likely to feel like you have a home here at Allegheny College.
That cause is what is at the heart of Americans and Alleghenians yearning for more civility in politics.
For order and civility to be restored, political leaders must exude humility, denouncing elite establishment values for what has lost public trust.
The call for a broader discussion of civility at Allegheny and across the nation is another clumsy attempt by the establishment to restore order and regain public trust that they simply don’t deserve.