The Anti-Establishment Establishment
The leading candidates for both parties in the 2016 Presidential contest are all trying to paint their opponents as “establishment.”
- Hillary recently called Bernie the establishment
- The Bern has been saying that about Hillary for months
- Ted Cruz warns that the Republican intelligentsia are lining up behind Trump
- Trump supporters hit Cruz with the dreaded e-word
Post-Obama America, when the platitudes of “hope” and “change” failed to hold up under the weight of reality, voters are in many ways more cynical than ever. The only broad agreement is that politicians in general are the problem; the more insider they are, the more a particular politician represents the ways of that mysterious phantasm known as “the establishment,” the less interested we are in electing them to the most powerful office in the land.
The problem, of course, is that the idea of “the establishment” is ephemeral. It’s a construct with little purchase on reality. It’s an idea with rhetorical power but very little content. Defending National Review‘s whole issue devoted to slamming The Donald, editor Jonah Goldberg argues,
“Anti-establishment” is almost entirely devoid of any ideological content whatsoever. An ideological category that can include Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Occupy Wall Street, the tea parties, Ted Cruz, Mark Levin, Rush Limbaugh, and Ben Carson is not a particularly meaningful one.
Some reply, oh no, it shows that the people are angry! I hear this all the time. And I agree. And I’m angry too. But you know what? Being angry is not a frick’n argument. I’m angry that Washington has drowned the country in debt. I’m angry that Obama has been a failure. I’m also angry that broccoli doesn’t taste like chicken and that Fox canceled Firefly. Being angry is probably a necessary condition for fixing a lot of problems, but it isn’t sufficient to the task. And it isn’t a particularly powerful defense of Donald Trump.
So why do we collectively demand outsider candidates to be the Chief Executive?
The flight from “establishment” candidates is just another example of our modern disdain for institutions. Whereas my grandparents’ generation loved and supported institutions – denominations, political parties, Masonic lodges, women’s circles – Western culture today eschews them. We now have a bias against “established” anything – that is, anything with a significant past – in part, perhaps, because new media and consumerism have effectively made all of us neophiliacs. We are conditioned to look out for what is new and what is next. Anything written in stone – hell, anything not Snapchatted or Instagrammed from the latest Apple product – is already antique.
Bias against the establishment has become our baseline, a shared cultural assumption. Like a fish that doesn’t know it’s in water, anti-establishment zeal is simply the air we breathe. In 21st century America, it is the norm.
Did you catch the irony?
Welcome to the anti-establishment establishment.