Americans are right to be skeptical about merit
SAN DIEGO -- Is the merit system dead? Can America -- this so-called land of opportunity -- really be called a meritocracy?
Once upon a time, if you got good grades, attended a good college, and landed a good job, you were guaranteed a good life. Nowadays, that argument is a tough sell.
One group that isn't buying it is a couple of dozen hardworking, veteran, award-winning Latino journalists I know who -- despite top-flight resumes -- are out of work, while many less-qualified white journalists are comfortably employed. After being booted out of radio, television, print and digital media, they've had a difficult time regaining their footing in what some are calling an industrywide "brownout," where the Latino voice in journalism is being slowly extinguished.
Ironically, the people who are snuffing it out are white liberals -- editors, producers, program directors -- who like to tell the country that President Trump is a racist who hates Latinos. Is unemployment what love feels like?
Trump has only a passing acquaintance with merit. He used family money and connections to get ahead by failing up.
From Hollywood to the presidential race, white privilege is in bloom. It turns out a white male can co-write a script about "Crazy Rich Asians" -- if crazy rich white studio executives are hiring. And, as Beto O'Rourke showed, someone can spend more than $80 million, lose a Senate race in Texas, run for president as he was "born" to do and land on the cover of Vanity Fair.
Merit, s'merit. That's only for immigrants, silly. Republicans think we should admit "high-skilled" people with advanced degrees and special expertise. How long before they realize that there are plenty of people of color from Africa, Asia and Latin America who are qualified to meet that higher threshold, so they have to come up with another way to bleach the immigrant pool?
You can't really blame Americans for rolling their eyes. Even if merit isn't dead, it certainly has seen better days.
Far away from Washington, Hollywood celebrities and other members of the 1% are trying to buy their kids tickets into prestigious universities by faking athletic ability and hiring smarter people to take their admissions test for them.
Sometimes, it's not even white privilege that corrupts the system. It's just plain ol' privilege, tied to wealth and fame.
And maybe athletic ability. Professional football player Antonio Brown signed with the Oakland Raiders, missed much of training camp due to a self-inflicted foot injury, and apparently got into a screaming match with the general manager, thus disrupting the franchise. The Raiders fined Brown a total of more than $250,000 and voided some contract payouts. The wide receiver asked to be released. The Raiders dropped him.
Yet, that same day, the New England Patriots rewarded him a one-year contract worth up to $15 million with a $9 million signing bonus. Later, the team added a second-year option in Brown's contract that would pay him $20 million if it keeps him on.
Is this how we penalize childish outbursts? Shouldn't "merit" also include following the rules and being a team player?
A new book by Yale Law professor Daniel Markovits makes an important contribution to the conversation that Americans ought to be having about merit in the post-merit age. In "The Meritocracy Trap: How America's Foundational Myth Feeds Inequality, Dismantles the Middle-Class, and Devours the Elite," Markovits argues that the wealthy are gaming the system while making a mockery of the assumption that those who get ahead deserve to get ahead.
One group that isn't getting ahead -- and may be going backward -- is Latino journalists who have largely disappeared from the media landscape over the last 10 years. You'll find a few scattered here and there, but that's a paltry offering for an industry that professes enlightenment at a time when Latinos are driving front-page news through hate crimes and the immigration debate. It started just after the 2008 financial crisis, when many media companies pared down staffs and many Latinos, who perhaps didn't fit into the black-and-white color paradigm in which the media operates, were shown the door. Even now that the economy has recovered and unemployment is at historical lows, many media companies have shown little interest in replenishing their Latino work force.
Now that Latinos are the talk of the nation, much of the nation's media doesn't care what they have to say. In many corners, it's still a case of white people hiring other white people to create content for white people.
Merit. Sure. Whatever you say.
Ruben Navarrette's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. His daily podcast, "Navarrette Nation," is available through every podcast app.
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