There’s a common view that Americans are divided like never before in history. But there’s an interesting story in the National Review (NR) that says we’ve seen it all before. Their argument is that, periodically, the people rise up and revolt against the ruling elite—although they don’t state it so clearly. The first populist revolt was headed by Andrew Jackson.
The country is coming apart, and the advocates of radical egalitarianism are winning. The wars between Trump, the media, the deep state, and the progressive party — replete with charges and counter-charges of scandal, collusion, and corruption — are merely symptoms of a much larger fundamental and growing divide between Americans that is reaching a dangerous climax.
On four prior occasions in American history the country nearly split apart, as seemingly irreconcilable cultural, economic, political, social, geographical, and demographic fault lines opened a path to hatred and violence. During the Jacksonian Revolution of the 1830s, factions nearly ripped the country apart over whether the East Coast Founders’ establishment of a half-century would relinquish its monopoly of political power to reflect the new demographic realties of an expanding frontier — and its populist champions often deemed unfit for self-governance. For the most part, the Jacksonians won.
While Trump has honed his message to populists, he is at heart, a slick New York billionaire. He is not a “rule follower” who has been abused by the elite. He is the financial elite–who avoid and abuse the rules for personal advantage. He has hired billionaires to run the government, including a whole flank from Goldman Sachs. And while he has delivered on some campaign promises, most of his actions so far will hurt members of his base.
Back to history, we even took up arms in the second revolt, which NR sees as the populist South rejecting the elitist North. That was followed by the Great Depression which was caused by the elite financial gamblers, and then, there’s the counter culture of the 1960s, seen as the people rising up against the elite corporatist racist warmongers:
Three decades later the nation divided over slavery, prompting the most lethal war in American history to end it and force the defeated Confederate southern states back into the Union.
The Great Depression, and the establishment’s inept responses to it, left a quarter of the country unemployed for nearly a decade — hungry and desperate to expand government even if it entailed curtailing liberty in a way never envisioned by the Founders. The result was eventually the redefinition of freedom as the right of the individual to have his daily needs guaranteed by the state.
In the 1960s, the hippie movement — fueled by furor over the Vietnam War, civil-rights protests, and environmental activism — turned holistic in a fashion rarely seen before. A quarter of the country went “hip,” grooming, dressing, talking, and acting in a way that reflected their disdain for the silent majority of “straight” or “irrelevant” traditional America. The hipsters lost the battle (most eventually cut their hair and outgrew their paisley tops to join the rat race) but won the war — as the universities, media, foundations, Hollywood, arts, and entertainment now echo the values of 1969 rather than those that preceded it.
The National Review, founded in 1955 by William F. Buckley, was the only respectable voice of conservatism for years, so they can be forgiven if they see everything through a rightist prism. You’ll note, for example, that while they describe the New Deal as the populist revolt against the bankster-gamblers, NR derides the programs it spawned, such as the unforgivably “socialist” Social Security.
Yet, the “people”—the South, farmers, workers—gave FDR four electoral victories. It was not until the war-hero-general (Ike) came along that Republicans had a hope for winning back the White House.
The unspoken conclusion is that the response to the Great Recession was a fifth populist revolt. Democrats didn’t see it. Republicans didn’t see it. Only Donald Trump saw the anger in the streets, and how to use it to power himself to ultimate world power.
Now we are engaged in yet a fifth revolutionary divide, similar to, but often unlike, prior upheavals. The consequences of globalization, the growth of the deep state, changing demographics, open borders, the rise of a geographic apartheid between blue and red states, and the institutionalization of a permanent coastal political and culture elite — and the reaction to all that — are tearing apart the country. –– Despite its 21st-century veneer, the nature of the divide is often over ancient questions of politics and society. . .
The conservative effort to roll back the entitlement, bureaucratic, and redistributionist state has so far mostly failed. That today, coming off sequestration, we are on target to run up a $700 billion annual deficit, on top of a $20 trillion national debt, goes largely unnoticed. Eighteen trillion dollars in national debt later, Ronald Reagan’s idea of cutting taxes to “starve the beast’ of federal spending has been superseded by “gorge the beast” to ensure that taxes rise on the upper classes. To the degree that there is a residual war over entitlements, it is not over cutting back such unsustainable programs, but instead about modestly pruning the level of annual increases.
NR sees the new populist revolt in terms of a rejection of egalitarianism, but isn’t that the real basis of populism? Isn’t it about fairness? Isn’t it about a feeling that the elite have too much money and power?
The article ends with a defeatist tone—the victim mentality.
So who is winning this fifth American conflict, and why? Progressivism. It has an insidious appeal to human nature, offering contexts and arguments for dependency — which is defined as the consequence of some sort of prior unethical exploitation (rather than chance, bad luck, or personal pathology, perhaps in addition to exploitation) and therefore deserving of proper recompense.
Progressivism promises a transcendence over nature’s limitations through superior education, proper training, and correct reasoning, as if poverty, illness, and inequality were not innate to human nature but results of selfishness and ignorance and so rather easily remedied. It confuses technological progress with a credo that human nature itself evolves in predictably progressive ways, thereby supposedly making obsolete institutions and protocols (from the Constitution itself to ancient ideas such as deterrence) that were once time-honored.
This is a repeat of an argument as old as the ancient Greeks: that in a true Democracy, the riff-raff will vote themselves increasing benefits, draining the wealth of the economic elite. Yet, this is the opposite of what we have seen for decades. The Holy Grail has been tax cuts for the super-rich—making services and benefits more and more difficult to provide to the public—not more equality for the poor and middle classes.