I know, it has been awhile. Sorry about that. Lots of stuff going on just now. But I would like to register an opinion on this site now and then. Maybe a little fewer and farther between than formerly, but still trucking as they used to say. Or is that truckin’? I have the old days on my mind just now, for reasons that should become clear when I get to my topic for today. But enough tomfoolery, let’s get the ball rolling. My topic for today is a funny little article I read in the paper the other day about how many people here in the USA are interested in fighting “the establishment,” although what and who they’re actually fighting is quite different and often contradictory, so they end up fighting one another rather more than the establishment. How true. And funny. Not, of course, in a slap your knee and spurt coffee from out your mouth way, but in an ironic way.
To be a tad more specific, the article argued that for conservatives and right wing elements here in the USA “the establishment” has come to mean our democratic government, the politicians and bureaucrats who work in it and for it, regulatory agencies, and on, while for liberals and left wing elements “the establishment” means the wealthy elite of the nation they feel have long held oversized influence over our democratic government and have long tended to use it to their own advantage rather than for the commonweal. The article also provided some historical perspective, all interesting and worthwhile, but not necessarily relevant to my thoughts on the subject.
The funny thought that occurred to me is that “back in the day,” as they say or used to say back in the day anyway, when I first started hearing about it in the 1960s (who knows how long it had been going on before that, probably decades, maybe forever), “the establishment” meant both. It meant the wealthy elite, bankers, CEOs, denizens of Wall Street, economically powerful muckety mucks of all stripes, and the nominally democratic government and justice system they were seen as controlling behind the scenes mostly for their own benefit. “Conservatives” were people who thought everything was working quite well and wanted to defend the establishment. “Liberals” and progressives and leftists had some concerns and wanted to fight the establishment. Everything made sense and had a sort of logic, at least as far as talking about the establishment went.
However, in the early 1980s or there about enterprising conservative and Republican ideologues started working on ways to peel off some liberals to their side. That’s the distinctive thing about the establishment: they have the time, money, and power to try all manner of tactics and strategies to maintain and enhance their situation. They’re always trying to come up something. They’re always a worthy adversary. In this instance, they ended up using a slippery con game of misinterpreting neoclassical welfare economics to successfully convince many Americans all their problems would be solved by the magic of “the free market” (not any particular market structure mind you, just any old free one), if only what they started to call “activist” democratic government could be taken out of the picture. I suppose they felt democratic government was fine as long as it didn’t actually do anything. It all worked out quite well for them because of course the “free market” does indeed tend to work out quite well for the wealthy elite who made their money on whatever the market happened to be freely doing at the time, although how much it did and does in general for anyone else is a matter of dispute. According to this new theory, “the establishment” was redefined as the elected officials and government employees who were ostensibly determined to use democratic government for their own nefarious purposes, and who were opposed by freedom loving people trying valiantly to throw off the yoke of democratic government, with the people being led, of course, by some very wealthy and powerful people indeed. Their goal became minimizing the role of democratic government, or I suppose in the best case scenario eliminating it entirely. Thus, when enormously wealthy and corrupt as hell Donald Trump tries now to do everything he can to undermine democratic government, rank and file conservatives and Republicans in this country are right there with him, fighting the good fight against the establishment as they see it. Meanwhile, many liberals never fell for the bad economics of the conservative ideologues. Some did to varying degrees, of course, the so-called “neo-liberals.” But others just kept on being concerned about fighting the establishment in the form of the wealthy elite who they still saw as dominating democratic government and using it for their own purposes. Their notion of fighting the establishment was to make democratic government stronger, not weaker, more representative of what average people wanted, and just in general reducing the influence of big money in politics and government. From their perspective, the advent of Donald Trump simply made a long-standing bad situation much, much worse, handing the establishment much greater power than it ever had before. Bernie Sanders is very much in this tradition of what we might call unbowed traditional American political liberalism also known as progressivism.
So that’s where we are today. Lots of people fighting “the establishment,” but the establishment doing just fine and indeed better than it ever has before. Oh well. Life goes on. We can always fight the establishment another day and most likely will, and the day after that, and the day after that, and …. well, you get the picture. But if you really want to fight the establishment, you might consider taking a few moments to understand the root of conservatives’ 1980s anti-democracy claptrap in bad economics. (See Hansel Krankepantzen if you don't know how that works.) But you know, if you’re too busy fighting, just carry on. Don’t let me get in your way.
Both Republicans and Democrats hate the establishment, but they hate very different things. Jon Ward. Washington Post. February 11, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/02/11/both-republicans-democrats-hate-establishment-they-hate-very-different-things/#comments-wrapper