If you think everyone around you is an idiot, you may be a jerk -- the "essence of jerkitude":
. . . the essence of jerkitude in the moral sense, is this: The jerk culpably fails to appreciate the perspectives of others around him, treating them as tools to be manipulated or idiots to be dealt with rather than as moral and epistemic peers. This failure has both an intellectual dimension and an emotional dimension, and it has these two dimensions on both sides of the relationship. The jerk himself is both intellectually and emotionally defective, and what he defectively fails to appreciate is both the intellectual and emotional perspectives of the people around him. He can't appreciate how he might be wrong and others right about some matter of fact; and what other people want or value doesn't register as of interest to him, except derivatively upon his own interests.
[. . .]
BECAUSE THE JERK tends to disregard the perspectives of those below him in the hierarchy, he often has little idea how he appears to them. This leads to hypocrisies. He might rage against the smallest typo in a student's or secretary's document, while producing a torrent of errors himself; it just wouldn't occur to him to apply the same standards to himself. He might insist on promptness, while always running late.
Embarrassment, too, becomes practically impossible for the jerk, at least in front of his underlings. Embarrassment requires us to imagine being viewed negatively by people whose perspectives we care about. As the circle of people whom the jerk is willing to regard as true peers and superiors shrinks, so does his capacity for shame — and with it a crucial entry point for moral self-knowledge.
I knew instantly that was a pretty good definition because I could think of so many people I've worked with who fit the description. I have my own ideas about who the biggest jerks in public life are, but why should I spoil your fun in coming up with your own?
The opposite of jerk, by the way, is the sweetheart,
who sees others around him, even strangers, as individually distinctive people with valuable perspectives, whose desires and opinions, interests and goals are worthy of attention and respect. The sweetheart yields his place in line to the hurried shopper, calls an acquaintance with an embarrassed apology after having been unintentionally rude. In a debate, the sweetheart sees how he might be wrong and the other person right.
I guess being a total sweetheart could steer you just as wrong as being a total jerk, but it seems like a much better way to go through life.