What makes the new upper class new is that its members not only have power and influence, but they also increasingly share a common culture that separates them from the rest of the country. Fifty years ago, the people who rose to the most influential positions overwhelmingly had Hank’s kind of background, thoroughly grounded in the American mainstream. Today, people of influence are characterized by a college education, often from elite colleges. The men are not married to the girl next door, but to highly educated women socialized at the same elite schools who are often as professionally successful as their husbands. They were admitted to this path by a combination of high IQ and personality strengths. They are often the children — and increasingly grandchildren — of the upper-middle class and have never known any other kind of life.
As adults, they have distinctive tastes and preferences, and seek out enclaves of others who share them. Their culture incorporates little of the lifestyle or the popular culture of the rest of the nation, in fact, members of the new upper class increasingly look down on that mainstream lifestyle and culture. Meanwhile, their children are so sheltered from the rest of the nation that they barely know what life is like outside Georgetown, Scarsdale, Kenilworth or Atherton. If this divide continues to widen, it will completely destroy what has made America’s national civic culture exceptional: a fluid, mobile society where people from different backgrounds live side by side and come together for the common good.