Anyone following politics has watched the ascendancy of Donald Trump this year and must be pondering what it means. He has stormed the GOP, with a legion of ardent followers heralding his arrival as a breath of fresh air for the Republican Party.
On the Democrats’ side, Bernie Sanders is assuming a similar mantle. The self-described socialist is currently their “anti-establishment” darling / candidate, somehow gaining a foothold and pulling attention away from Hillary Clinton. Clinton’s nomination was generally thought of as a done deal by most, prior to Sanders stepping into the ring.
So why is this happening?
But Trump and Sanders are just symptoms. The real disease is in the ruling class that takes such important subjects out of political play, in its own interest. As Angelo Codevilla wrote in an influential essay in 2010, today’s ruling class is a monoculture that has little in common with the rest of the nation:
“Never has there been so little diversity within America’s upper crust. Always, in America as elsewhere, some people have been wealthier and more powerful than others. But until our own time, America’s upper crust was a mixture of people who had gained prominence in a variety of ways, who drew their money and status from different sources and were not predictably of one mind on any given matter. The Boston Brahmins, the New York financiers, the land barons of California, Texas and Florida, the industrialists of Pittsburgh, the Southern aristocracy and the hardscrabble politicians who made it big in Chicago or Memphis had little contact with one another.
“Today’s ruling class, from Boston to San Diego, was formed by an educational system that exposed them to the same ideas and gave them remarkably uniform guidance, as well as tastes and habits. These amount to a social canon of judgments about good and evil, complete with secular sacred history, sins (against minorities and the environment), and saints. Using the right words and avoiding the wrong ones when referring to such matters — speaking the ‘in’ language — serves as a badge of identity. Regardless of what business or profession they are in, their road up included government channels and government money because, as government has grown, its boundary with the rest of American life has become indistinct. Many began their careers in government and leveraged their way into the private sector.”
To this ruling class, the rest of the country is sometimes an annoyance or obstacle, sometimes a source of necessary funds or votes, but always the “other” — not our kind, dear. Too ignorant, too unpolished, too unconnected to the right institutions and pieties to really count. With ruling-class Republicans having more in common with ruling-class Democrats than with the people they rule, it’s unsurprising that, as Codevilla predicted in a later essay, millions of voters feel orphaned. Democracy doesn’t do much for technocratically set policy that always seems to reflect ruling-class preferences, and people feel they’ve lost control of their own fates.
Of course, orphaned voters aren’t a bug but a feature for a ruling class that would prefer to rule without them. But in a democracy, which America still is, voters don’t stay orphaned forever.
Reynolds believes that the establishment will ultimately prevail this election cycle. If he’s correct, the question then becomes for how long will that hold true?