The members of Vanity Fair’s new establishment include Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and Jack Dorsey, Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer, Cory Booker and Megan Ellison. These are the bold-faced celebrities you spot on other lists of power players, in the lush photos of parties and galas and tributes and premieres that appear in the front of the book of glossy magazines, and on the cover of our national newsweekly. They share a certain demographic profile. They are people of pallor, all but eight of them are men, they are clustered in Manhattan, Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, and Seattle, they work in technology, media, and politics, they are fantastically rich, and it is safe to assume that all but two of them share the attitudes and sensibilities, the mental luggage and politically correct language, the burnished resumes and can-do attitude of the caste.
One of the more remarkable things about this collection of do-gooders, overachievers, and symbolic analysts is their consistent inability to apply to themselves the skepticism and criticism they shower so heavily on Republicans and conservatives, on the rich who make their fortunes from resource extraction, manufacture, and investment. Not long ago a social critic such as C. Wright Mills could write pitilessly and accurately about The Power Elite, about the WASP establishment he saw lurking behind militarism and inequity. Few were exempt from his gaze. Our social critics today, however, prefer only to focus on a minority of a minority: the wealthy and influential whose policy and ideological objectives happen to be the very opposite of their own.
Put a banker or an industrialist or—dare I say it—a Republican in front of the men and women who edit Vanity Fair, and they will approach their subject with the utmost incredulity and commitment to ferreting out the worst possible facts. But the Hollywood tycoon or Internet billionaire or green-energy hawker or “engaged” actor whose politics exist in the temperate zone of bourgeois liberalism, whose public pronouncements are reliably “down the middle” and “moderate,” whose bold stands on the issues include such courageous positions as support for abortion-on-demand, affirmative action, amnesty, gun control, free trade, diversity, globalization, alternative energy, public transit, and government “investments” in education and infrastructure—his place in the establishment is not only noted but celebrated, applauded, held as an example to the people.