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Chris Hayes: Why America's Meritocracy Is Just a Myth

Hayes talks about the failures of our elites, and what we need to do to advance a vision of a more equal society.

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Over the past decade, Americans have watched a series of disastrous failures on the part of our elites – failures that have eroded our trust in the institutions we once believed to be competent stewards of a prosperous society.

In his new book, Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy, Chris Hayes considers the ramifications of that decline in confidence. What does it say about our supposed meritocracy that those who have achieved positions of immense power appear to be unwilling or incapable of exercising their authority on behalf of the common good? Do we even have a meritocracy anymore, or have we developed a sort of inept aristocracy?

Hayes appeared on this week's AlterNet Radio Hour to talk about the book. Below is a transcript of the discussion that has been lightly edited for clarity (you can listen to the whole show here, or subscribe to the weekly podcast on iTunes).

JH: I want to talk about the book, but first I feel almost duty-bound to ask about this recent fracas you got into after noting something entirely obvious to my viewpoint -- that not every soldier who loses his or her life is a hero. You said this very respectfully, but it ignited a kind of 'two minutes of hate' against you. Was that an eye-opener as far as the constraints of the discourse on cable television versus if you’d written that column in the Nation? I don’t think there would have been the same reaction.

CH: I think it was an eye-opener and kind of a reminder that I do have a pretty big platform now. People are listening and paying attention, and that’s a privilege I take incredibly seriously. We talk about difficult and sensitive topics, complex and loaded topics on the show. It’s one of the things that we try to do intentionally, because those are topics that need to be talked about. So with the nature of that -- and talking unscripted and mostly off the prompter for four hours live every week -- that comes with the territory. I knew that abstractly, but I’d say I now know it more concretely in these last few weeks.

JH: Again I think that what you said was both respectful and obviously accurate. You apologized for it in the days that followed. Did you come under pressure to do so?

CH: No. I don’t say things that I don’t believe, as a rule. I wouldn’t say something that I didn’t believe. I stand by what I said in the statement and I stand by what I said on the show. I said those things because I felt those things. But I want to be very clear: we’re not going to be cowed, intimidated or bullied away from having difficult conversations. I think we showed that by how we went about the show the next weekend.

People are paying attention and words mean a lot. They have a certain power and a force. They have a power and a force specifically to individuals who have been on the receiving end of some terrible life experiences. One of the requirements of journalistic empathy -- and just empathy as a general human being -- is to take care about that, to keep that in mind. That’s something we’re also going to keep doing. We have a lot of issues in this country that don’t get the airing they need to get. We want to keep trying to discuss them.

JH: Well, I really respect the work you’ve been doing on the show, and I don’t watch a lot of television.

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