A Parisian couple reading in the Tuileries Garden on a Sunday afternoon. They are just French, not Coastal Elites.

Since the election on November 8 my fellow Hillary supporters have been in a tail spin while supporters from the other side are gloating with victory (had it gone the other way, I’m sure Hillary people would be equally ungracious. That’s not what this is about.) An old acquaintance, who is married to a man who easily makes ten times what I do, sneered in a Facebook post that I was “nothing more than a clueless Coastal Elite.”

I am a Coastal Elite. This may sound like a high end SUV or a type of condom, but it’s recently become the label slapped on people who respect facts and like to read. A Coastal Elite has books shelves with books in them, and probably a subscription to The New Yorker. We do okay financially, but just like many rust belters, a lot of us struggle to make ends meet.

The old definition of  an Elite, coastal or otherwise, was someone who had an exclusive country club membership passed down from generation to generation or an Ivy League education. Nowadays, to be elite you just have to respect fact more than feeling. Or, to clarify (this compulsion to be concise is a tic of the Coastal Elite), to simply respect the immutability of fact. The earth is round, and someone’s feeling about that fact, while real, is irrelevant, and does nothing to change the shape of the earth.

I just labored over that sentence a little, which totally makes me a Coastal Elite.

As a Coastal Elite, I love books and respect learning. This makes me particularly suspect, even though a book is one of the last free things available to the public. There will be libraries for the foreseeable future. The poorest person in America can walk into a public library, pull out a book and read, even without benefit of a card. One of the first things dropped into the Free box at the end of a neighborhood garage sale are paperback books. Anyone who wanted to could be sitting on a park bench reading a paperback right now.

I was a Coastal Elite long before there was such a label. My high school educated mother revered books and always looked forward to the day when the new Reader’s Digest Condensed Book arrived in the mail. My father was the child of Polish immigrants who viewed reading as a civic obligation, and the mark of the civilized man. We respected books in our tract house in Whittier, California. I was never allowed to write in them or break the spine. Books cost good money. That’s how Coastal-ly Elite we were.

At my twenty year high reunion my true Coastal Elite colors were revealed. It occurred just after I’d published a book that had received a glowing review in the New York Times. I went to a big public high school where most of us were middle class and half of us were Mexican. The richest girl in school was the daughter of a man who owned not one but two stationery shops. In our class, a handful went on to become doctors and lawyers. My first boyfriend became a painter and moved to Berlin. Everyone else pretty much stayed put and went on to become teachers, nurses, real estate agents, and office workers of various stripes.

At the reunion, when it was revealed that I’d become a published author, people said things like, “Oh! I need to read more.” and “I don’t read as much as I used to!” and “Can you get your book at the library? I don’t use the library as much as I used to but when I go next time, I will check out your book.”

I’d embarrassed them by reminding them they’d given up on something our teachers had taught us to value.  I should clarify (again with the clarification!) this was not the case with my closest friends, or even with most of the people I knew well, but I was surprised by the response. I felt like a nun at a kegger. By the simple fact of making a life as a writer, I’d unwittingly shone a light on intellectual laziness.

As us Coastal Elites tend to do.

Coastal Elites generally have a larger world view than people who call us out for being Coastal Elites. We understand that there is the internet, the Real Housewives of Wherever, video games and FOX News. We understand being tired at the end of the day, and still having to make dinner and put the kids to bed, and why on earth would anyone want to complicate their lives even further by the exertion of reading a book or a real newspaper? Even those of us CEs without a degree in psychology understand that a lot of the invective hurled our way is mere projection: people seem to know that choosing to be aliterate represents personal failure. “A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t,*” said Mark Twain.

Look, I just quoted a revered thinker from another time. The Coastal Elite can’t help it.




*Clearly he would have revised his opinion were he living and writing in 2016.







Join the discussion 15 Comments

  • Diana says:

    I live on the actual coast Karen. Get your geography facts straight. “Without geography, you are nowhere” said a woman holding a bacon maple donut.

  • Wes says:

    Does this mean Diana isn’t a coastal elite, but a costal elitist?

  • Joan Lester says:

    I am a proud coastal elite. I didn’t even realize it was an epithet until after the election. I live in an urban island of blue within a sea of red on the east coast. Yes, I love to read, and I even have advanced degrees. I have a condo at the coast (in that sea of red,) and I love the coast. I love the Embers, the Catalinas, and General Johnson and the Chairman of the Board. I didn’t realize I was elite, because my friends and family are educated too, and being educated just seems normal.

    It troubles me that our president-elect doesn’t like to read. There is so much he needs to know. It troubles me also that we educated elites were unable to fathom the unfathomable. Despite our education, we fell short. I will always be a coastal elite, but I hope we can harness our education next time to have compassion for those who have antipathy towards us.

  • Danny noble says:

    Oh dear! Coastal elites, in my understanding, are wealthy socialites living in Manhatten or LA. People who have no worries or concerns beyond what Democrat gets elected.

    Us real people in middle America laugh at you and your provincial views. You have no clue what it is like to do a hard days work I imagine. Just sipping your lattes and sneering at people who drive used cars.

  • Karen Karbo says:

    Ha! Thanks for reading and commenting, Danny. You may be disappointed to discover most of us are real people. I have three jobs and drive a 17-year-old Cabrio with a leaky roof (thus the very attractive driver’s side garbage bag seat cover). However I will confess I having sipped a latte or two.

  • Susie Smith says:

    Ahem, you misspelled “stationery” stores.

  • Keith Nelson says:

    Fun read!

    “Discovered” you on Dave Morgan’s News Lincoln County, today.

    As I sit in my office banging away on my modern day typewriter (MacBook Pro) peering out the window overlooking Agate beach directly at the Yaquina Head lighthouse – a bona fide Coastal Elite transplanted here from a long, circuitous trail that originated in South Dakota, of all places!

  • Susan says:

    I really enjoyed your article. I have tried never to classify myself or those around me, trying to believe that at the end of the day, we are all the same. After the election, though, I don’t believe this. I finally have moved full – time to the California Central Coast and have observed that people just live differently here than other, more conservative and provincial towns. There is more value placed on a healthy lifestyle, and upon investing in the community. The difference does not involve wealth, though of course, this is always a factor. The variable that seems to differentiate people is a curiosity about the world and this involves training one’s mind to read and explore history and find commonalities. I was not raised in a wealthy household, but my parents instilled the necessity to read literature and stay abreast of world affairs. Sometimes I don’t like what I learn, but I refuse to be brainwashed by media outlets such as Fox News. I don’t understand how some people don’t grasp how patronizing and dangerous these shows are. What we are witnessing post-election is a huge societal divide. One camp wants to remain in a make-believe world of a kinder, more gentle time which never actually existed. Ultimately, those classified as the Coastal Elite tend to simply like facts and figures based upon validated research. I find these types of areas much more tolerant and inclusive, especially towards professional women, and those who don’t fit into a neat, prepackaged box. This environment tends to foster the freedom to create innovation solutions to many problems most of us face.

  • B. Lansing says:

    I have lived in the Silicon Valley and the South Bay Area of California for my entire 30 year existence and the negative characteristics that “coastal elities” are potrayed and described as having have are absolutely true. I see sterling examples of them every day! People here are snobbish, self-absorbed, and out of touch. And it’s getting worse. Somebody’s degree becomes an authority and being outraged about something is an addiction. I have finally conceded; when my lease is up my bags will be packed and I will leave the only place I’ve ever called home. It’s become a lost cause and I imagine many similar places are too.

  • Tim Zebedee says:

    You drive a 17- year- old Cabrio, due to financial hardship or due to reverse snobbery?

  • Deborah says:

    I must be a coastal elite from deep rural Louisiana, although I have travelled and lived as far as Japan. I am a college graduate, and almost have an advanced degree. The only reason I do not is because I realized the lies being taught in higher education. My advanced degree was the first time I was focusing on the arts or soft science side of college. I already knew better, but tried it out anyway. Apparently you can be educated more than the universities, and many people all over the US are awakening to more truth than these places offer us. This awakening to how we have been lied to from our sources of so-called expert information is the true reason for the election results. (You also have to beware of publications you subscribe to, which may keep you in a misinformed echo bubble.)

    And just in case it helps you see beyond what you have written (and probably believe is true), many people who do not vote ‘liberal’ (with what that means these days), are fully convinced that we care about facts and logic foremost. Meanwhile, those who generally vote ‘Democrat’ honestly seem to value feelings more.

    Another way I heard it said is, they do not care about practicalities, but are easily duped by ideas and words with certain emotional attachments. Just throw ‘racist’ and ‘bigot’ into an inflammatory scene, and they will never take a second thought to how the scene itself was only a contrived manipulation and never true in the first place. This is a very common perception from this side of the division. We literally watch the ‘Democrats’ being played over and over, again and again, and just roll our eyes at how obvious it all is. This is a repetitive predictable process that makes the ‘liberals’ seem very emotional and not rational at all, so it was funny to read what you have written here about being the only ones in tune with books and science.

    The blue side also appears to be deliberately insincere as a manipulation tactic against political opponents. If a topic enrages you (particularly one that is more difficult to morally defend or are at risk in losing politically), then just pretend outrage at knowing better. Explanations are never necessary. The outrage need to only be convincing and overwhelming enough to make the opponent, walk away shaking their head and wondering what they missed, meanwhile successfully dropping the original question. The other main tactic is to hold up advanced degrees and speak in a very so-called educated and patronizing tone, whilst pretending that this gives you an automatic authority. If there are any more questions after this, it is coming from a lower form of evolution that will eventually be weeded out of the gene pool.

    I also suspect both sides are being played by media sources, and are led to believe each are better educated about the state of the world than the other?

    • Karen Karbo says:

      Thanks for taking the time to read this and share some of your thoughts about the Blue Team. This post was written two years ago, in a different world. I hear what you say about the rush to outrage on the left. It’s counterproductive to say the very least. I disagree with some of what you’d said, but that’s okay! Let’s bring back the old school practice of agreeing to disagree. Be well.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.