Why the First Daughter and scions of the rich and powerful deserve our sympathy.
"And things always have to be found for them to do." Christopher Hitchens's mildest line about the royals was somehow the most lancing. In their quest to be of some use, there is an air of minor-Windsor about the First Daughter and the First Son-in-Law of the United States. Ivanka Trump was a less than essential presence at last week's G20 summit. Jared Kushner held a Middle East peace forum that will not displace the Camp David Accords in the lore of the region. That modern pillory, social media, made sport of #UnwantedIvanka, inserting her, Forrest Gumpishly, into momentous events. Ivanka storming Juno beach. Ivanka as Renaissance muse. Ivanka on the moon.
It has been a trying year for the sons and daughters of privilege, or at any rate the less gifted among them. Parents with razors for elbows were caught bribing universities to admit their children. The idea that a youngish republic cannot have a class system took a pounding — as did that system's rich-kid beneficiaries.
Once, I would have been at the head of the mob, evil-eyed and foaming. But I have come to know enough of these scions to understand the sadness of their lot. Here are three reasons to pity the privileged.
The first is pressure. It is hard to equal or better a successful parent. The judge's daughter who peaks as a Magic Circle solicitor is an unpromising candidate for sympathy, granted, but consider the familial awkwardness — the sense of expectations undershot. The parent need not apply an ounce of pressure for the child to feel several tonnes of the stuff. Some respond by striving ever harder. Others deal with it by dropping out early. In many cases, people we call "bohemian" just pre-empted what they knew would be career mediocrity. They forfeited the race and made a virtue of it.
They have to believe in their brilliance, in the inevitability of their success. The alternative is to confront the real possibility of their own talentlessness
Anyone who has been young, male and on the make, or just read a Bildungsroman, will know that powerful men are often disappointed in their sons. Perhaps the boy chose a different path or turned out to be a plodder in the same one. Either way, the old man starts casting for a protégé: that euphemism for an upgraded son. If others can sense it, then be sure the sons themselves can. Imagine the sting of rejection.
Most of us will never know this kind of stress. If, like me, you had a lower parental bar to clear, and did it early, you are playing with house money for the rest of your life.
The second curse of privilege is ennui. Even when the children of the successful do well, it is only what they expected. Their work and the lifestyle it buys holds no wonder for them. They were exposed to some approximation of it growing up. After 12 years in the media, my waking thought is still an ecstatic incredulity at the existence of jobs such as mine. For some of my peers, nothing could be more banal. I do not envy them the highness of their expectations.
If neither the pressure nor the lassitude of life as a princeling breaks your heart, then consider one more snag of privilege: the guilt. To receive, say, £500,000 in education, by dint of luck, will do something to a person.
Readers will counter with stories of all the unreflective brats they have known. The mistake here is to take arrogance at its word. Just as the fanatic nurses a secret doubt, the popped-collar preppy is often compensating. They have to believe in their brilliance, in the inevitability of their success with or without the paid-for advantages. The alternative is to confront the absurdity of the system, and the real possibility of their own talentlessness. It is swagger as self-defence.
Sometimes, the guilt takes a more righteous form. A decision to live slightly below one's means, perhaps, or an itch to do good in some nebulous way. There is often a paternalist curiosity about the developing world.
I would not want to be weighed down with this Lenten streak. It is unlikely to be coincidence that, of the most enthusiastic epicures I know, none is of higher than middling background. We are less squeamish than the born-rich in the pursuit of sensory joy. But then they did not have the chance to go without it. They did not have our privilege.
Written by: Janan Ganesh
© Financial Times