The above image might be entitled "The Innocence of the Dinosaurs". Are the times always so kind as to march lock-step with us? We live in an era so free and therefore so dynamic that we are just as prone to be ahead of the curve on some issues as we are likely not to keep pace with the times on other matters. A circumstance not to be taken personally. After all, it is unexpected, and not rarely unpleasant, things that remind us of the need to adapt, to change, to rebuild. I am in no way suggesting that the political protagonists discussed below deserve support when I simply recognise that they are instrumental in expressing and bringing about changes that affect all of us.
However unpalatable the candidates in question may appear to some of us, it is more helpful to analyse the conditions that make them catalysts of changing times, than to focus on the scandal of their holding views wildly different from ours.
Recently, I have written:
Say what you may, it strikes me as a healthy sign that the American political system remains prone to be shaken up thoroughly every once in a while by outsiders like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.
Do not jump to conclusions as to how I think about the mavericks in question. Having said that, I feel the below thoughts are well worth reading:
Yet if nothing were politicized, there would be no civilization. Precisely because we live together, there are issues on which policies must be adopted that will affect us all, even if satisfying everyone perfectly is impossible. Examples include national defense, controlling epidemics, and traffic rules. On such matters, finding the best balance among many tradeoffs requires everyone to be open about their knowledge, aspirations, apprehensions, and expectations. Disappointments are easier to accept if everyone has been heard and conflicting agendas have been reconciled through meaningful compromise. When these ideal conditions are met, the imperfections of adopted policies will be viewed as the costs of accommodating diverse constituencies fairly. Even individuals who dislike specific policies will consider the political process legitimate.
Politics loses legitimacy insofar as it excludes from consideration certain preferences and thoughts. When the fear of being ridiculed, belittled, and stigmatized makes certain groups censor themselves, disappointing policies are no longer acceptable. Yes, open conflict may be avoided, at least for a while. It may seem to groups with a voice in the political process that social problems are being solved through the triumph of superior ideas. In certain cases, the apparent harmony might even become genuine over time; absent public support, the concealed preferences may wither away. The American “melting pot” is replete with examples of old-world preferences that gradually lost appeal after disappearing from public view under pressures to appear “American.” To fit in, immigrants grudgingly gave up authenticity; their children would not even contemplate living differently from their native peers. For the second generation, authenticity meant living like an American, not clinging to ancestral customs.
But when core economic and social interests are involved the truncation of public discourse is unlikely to end as happily. Consider jobs, government subsidies, or wealth redistribution. On such matters, preferences are far more resilient, and disappointments are felt far more deeply than on those involving ancestral customs. Because perceived indignities and injustices are relived repeatedly, excluding them from public discourse breeds sustained anger, and political insiders draw growing resentment. Conspiracy theories that demonize some conception of the “establishment” start to circulate more or less clandestinely, usually through media that the politically connected scorn as backward, reactionary, and misinformed. On the surface, politics will seem relatively calm, but this situation cannot last forever. At some point, the frustrations will spew out, like lava from a long-dormant volcano. When that explosion occurs, the elites accustomed to ignoring the masses will be unprepared to counter the populist leaders who emerge to fill the void. The fates of many so-called establishment candidates in the 2016 Republican primary illustrate the point. So does the degree to which establishment candidates in both parties have had to pander to newly energized constituencies.
As Sean Trende notes, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are not the first American presidential candidates to champion outsider causes. If they have been far more successful than their predecessors, this is partly because they have gone much farther in dissociating themselves from the establishment.
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