The biggest lie of this sorry presidential campaign, plagued as it is with distortions, evasions and fabrications, is that the “establishment”—whatever that is—is the carbuncle on the body politic.
And that only outsiders have the cure.
It might not have happened if the self-identified outsiders weren’t also purists who have insisted that their answers and theirs alone are the prescription for what ails America. Their theme song is Frank Sinatra’s hit, “All or nothing at all,” in which “there ain't no in-between.”
As in there ain’t no in-between when it comes to health care: It had to be President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, or nothing at all. No amendments allowed by opposition Republicans to soften obvious defects. No moderation, no compromise. The unsurprising result: a collapsing scheme that’s burdening millions of Americans with higher insurance premiums and fewer choices.
Or as in there ain’t no in-between: Either accept a debt ceiling as we see fit, or we shut down the government. Republicans have twice shot themselves in their feet with government closures; the third time won’t be a charm either.
What is this evil establishment of which we speak? William Hughes Mearns may have inadvertently defined it in his popular poem, “Antigonish:”
Yesterday upon the stair
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
I wish, I wish he’d go away
The establishment’s definition has been worked and reworked so often that it’s hard to pin it down. It’s so vague that suspicion is warranted that it isn’t there at all. It was the radical activist’s favorite accusation in the 1960s when the “establishment” was the root of all evil: The Vietnam War, Jim Crow, DDT and dead birds. Blaming the establishment was groovy, outasight and a gas. Speaking the lingo was boss, uniting all in a tie-dyed hippie front.
Sociologists dressed it up as the “power structure,” giving it the kind of cant that enabled professors to pass it down to following generations as given wisdom. For those who were around then, the usage harkens back to self-satisfied, moralistic “direct action;” narrow-minded rejection of any opposing thought, and, sometimes, violence. Sound familiar?
For many outsiders, establishment means compromise, corruption or weakness. If you abandon your position on, say, immigration or taxes, you’ve abandoned your principles. Succumbed to your adversary.
Of course, there are various interest groups vying to influence public policy. It’s what happens in a republic or democracy. Competing voices are as ever present and varied as the weather. Who an insider is often depends on your political affiliation and ideological outlook. It could be organized labor or banks, but for most people never both together.
Ironically, insiders, more than purist outsiders, understand that compromise is the necessary ingredient if democracy is to work. Often, outsiders will see in compromise a betrayal by elected officeholders who swear to stand by their principles, come hell or high water. Any politician who makes that cast-in-stone campaign pledge is prima facea either naïve or dishonest.
Why don’t so many outsiders, the ones demanding absolute loyalty and single-minded intransigence, understand the role of moderation and compromise? Are they so ignorant or disrespectful of the importance of process that they think that one side or the other can or should be able to impose their will on everyone?
I have a theory. The fault is this: the elements of compromise and political process are not being taught in our schools anymore. Or not in an understanding or persuasive way. Civics? The course is a dinosaur as outdated as cursive writing. History? Only to show the wretchedness of our forefathers.
Do they teach how a bill really becomes a law, other than a diagram with arrows pointing to the houses of Congress and the president? Do students study the negotiations that gave us the Constitution? Do see how pigheadedness has led to failure? Are they exposed to the subtleties and nuances that lead to practical and workable solutions? Have they even heard the expression, “give and take?”
I think not. No, I don’t have unchallengeable empirical evidence. Other than the widespread adoration of outsiders by so many Americans. And the growing worry that we might have lost something vital to the working of self-government.
Read why Americans need to learn about the nation's most ignored war.
Find out what freelance editorial services I can provide for you.
Filed under: Uncategorized