I just had a quick thought today.
A billionaire real-estate developer based out of the richest city on the planet is most definitely part of the “establishment.”
One of Donald Trump’s primary claims this election is that he’s running to fight The Establishment. He says he’s an outsider.
Yeah, don’t believe it.
There’s more to being part of the “establishment” than simply working in government. Herr Trump’s various flaws and issues aside, one doesn’t acquire the type of influence and presence that he has without having hands in many institutions. He has certainly influenced government officials before (local, state, and national), and is firmly entrenched in the mainstream media. His cozy relationship with the national media is a big reason why he managed to run a competitive presidential campaign without doing much traditional advertising.
This little rant is less about him, but the same thing goes to Bernie supporters (and I was one!). Bernie Sanders has been a member of the national legislature since 1991. Even without being part of a political party until recently, he is still firmly part of the “establishment.”
And I’m not actually saying any of this to knock either guy. I mean, I can tear up Donald Trump all day, but this is one situation where the fact that he is certainly part of the establishment isn’t his problem.
Americans have a certain distaste for the political process. I’m working on a blog piece exploring that in more detail.
Suffice to say, the near constant media/political/social demonization of the institution of government over the past 30 years is a big reason why we assume government automatically equals corruption and sloth. Now obviously, it definitely can mean that.
But that kind of thing is often a self-fulfilling prophecy. We keep electing people who tell us government is the problem, and then they obstruct and delay and argue and fight over ideological purity… and fail to accomplish necessary tasks. And when one of them does attempt to compromise and make things work, we punish them by voting them out in favor of an ideologue. And the cycle just continues. We have gradually been spiraling into the corruption and failure we assumed was always the norm.
And then we blame “the establishment.” We blame politics in general. We often decry the gridlock, but fail to recognize our own complicity in creating it.
The driving ideology behind America’s second largest political party is to prove government doesn’t work by governing as poorly as possible. Donald Trump may not share other core values of the “establishment” GOP. But he is an enthusiastic contributor to the idea the government as we know it is the root of society’s ills. In that, he fits in just fine with the Republican Party.
Many career politicians get elected on the notion that they are there to fight the establishment. Of course, most of them already were part of the establishment in the first place.
Having an establishment is not the problem. In an ideal system, we have compromise, we have deals, we also have accountability. Sometimes people will have to make agreements that don’t completely square with their personal ideology. There would be no shame in holding elected office. One would run to serve, and to ensure the whole system keeps chugging along, and hopefully gradually improving. There are 320 million diverse opinions in America. Nobody is going to get everything they want.
But instead, we don’t seek a more perfect union. We elect people who argue that the key to a more perfect union is to run a more perfect business. And then accountability shifts from the people to the money. And we complain about that lack of human accountability, but continue to blame public service. And, just as one would expect, public service deteriorates. Our infrastructure rots, our health care gets more expensive, the genuine existential crisis of climate change is ignored, all while national political candidates bicker over emails and lie about crime rates.
Nothing actually gets accomplished without some sort of “establishment.” The key is making sure that the establishment is accountable to the interests of the citizens. And that means the citizens need to pay attention. They need to learn how laws get passed, how moneyed interests get their hands in there in the first place. The people need to be willing to be part of the establishment, themselves.