I use the word ‘elite’ often to describe people and groups. What I mean by the word is quite straightforward: It means the people at the very top of any given category. So one can have elite musicians, athletes, actors, and so on. In the political context, it means those who are at the top of the socio-economic spectrum. As someone who follows the evolution of words, I have been interested in how the term is now being transformed into a pejorative description of knowledgeable people who have certain progressive political views. So scientists who raise the alarm about the climate are now dismissed as part of the ‘elite’.
As an example of the transformation of this word, we have the recent case of Virginia Thomas, wife of Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas and herself a militant right wing culture warrior. She has come out in defense of embattled Republican congressman Jim Jordan who has been accused by multiple former wrestlers at Ohio State University of ignoring sexual harassment. In her defense, she says “Jim Jordan is under attack, with false accusations, because he threatens the elite.”
The idea that Jordan, a fervent supporter of all the extreme right wing Republican positions aimed at increasing the wealth of the already wealthy, threatens the ‘elite’ is laughable. What Thomas is doing is distorting the meaning of the word beyond all recognition to simply mean anyone who is knowledgeable and happens to disagree with her’s and Jordan’s political stance.
Meanwhile, there has been an extraordinary development in the OSU abuse case. Jordan and a group of six coaches have hired a Virginia-based public relations firm that has issued a statement where the six strongly defend Jordan’s claim that he knew nothing about the abuse.
“We all worked on the wrestling coaching staff during Jim’s tenure at The Ohio State University. None of us saw or heard of abuse of OSU wrestlers. The well-being of student-athletes was all of our concern. If we had heard of any abuse, we would have spoken up.”
The reason this is extraordinary is that seven former wrestlers have described the most egregious abuse that was done quite blatantly to the extent that it was described as a ‘cesspool of deviancy’ that allowed voyeurs into the showers. For the coaches, the very people who were entrusted with the well-being of the student athletes, to claim that they were utterly oblivious to what was going on means that they had not exercised the minimum of responsibility expected of them. Either that, or they are implying that all the wrestlers are lying, which hardly seems credible. [UPDATE: Yet another former wrestler, the ninth, has come forward with similar accusations.]
The entire administration of OSU has a lot of explaining to do. In April they set in motion an inquiry into the activities of the team’s doctor at that time, who has been charged with the worst abuses. It is not clear if the inquiry will expand to cover the behavior of coaches. OSU is going to be nervous about investigating Jordan’s role. State universities, dependent on public funding, are always wary about antagonizing powerful legislators.