What the New Yorker finds to be “unlikely”

From a September New Yorker profile by writer Ryan Lizza of Tom Steyer, the billionaire political donor promoting environmental causes:

Steyer is, at first glance, an unlikely leader of the environmental movement. He is rangy and square-jawed, and he has exquisite establishmentarian credentials, to say nothing of a vast pile of money. He honed his raffish sense of humor at Phillips Exeter Academy, and went on to get degrees from Yale and Stanford business school. Before starting his own fund, he worked at Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley….

This must represent the New Yorker editors’ special idiomatic use of the word “unlikely” to signify “clich├ęd, stereotypical, and exactly as you would expect.” William Tucker has written at more length about the subject.


  • I think the surprising thing for New Yorker readers is not that a rich person with leisure is an “environmental leader,” but that a

    1) person with impeccable Upper East Side establishment credentials
    2) who did not immediately lean on the family trust fund after college to start “doing good,” but instead got a “real job” for a couple decades
    3) in “finance,” which even though everyone works in it in NYC, we assume means you’re a right-wing Gordon Gekko.

    started doing environmental advocacy. The assumption is that at least one of these is not the case, e.g.:
    – Al Gore (Tennessean/DC native; not a New Yorker)
    – RFK Jr. (trust fund advocacy, no “real job”)
    – Any tech millionaire (probably West Coast, but if not, not in the “evil” that is “finance”)

  • “Before starting his own fund, he worked at Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley….” How ironic, this is one of the guys who created the banking mess and he’s now a darling of the environmentalists and the Democrats. All because he’s got money.