Fighting the establishment: Is sticking it to “the Man” really the path to progress?

Mar 16th, 2017 | By | Category: 2016-2017, Opinions

By Quinlyn Manfull
Staff Writer

If we learned anything from this past election, it should be that anti-establishment rhetoric is extremely effective. From Bernie Sanders to Donald Trump, “the people” found a voice in old white men who apparently provided a newfound hope in the American political system.

Anti-establishment movements are nothing new. From Ralph Waldo Emerson to the Communist Manifesto to Occupy Wall Street to the 2016 election, the “common man” has found many reasons to hate those in charge of creating our system of governance, our economy, or our social hierarchy.

It makes sense, especially in our current political climate. Americans are running away from the middle. The Pew Research Center has found that Americans are becoming more and more ideologically polarized. They also found that individuals are far more likely to vote based on social values than monetary ones — a flip since the 1970s.

Pew also found that people not only dislike the other party more and more, but a large amount of them see the opposite party as a threat. When a candidate looks even remotely like someone who might compromise, voters start getting scared off. Not only that, but people distrust the government at near-record levels, according to Pew data.

With a near-record high hatred and distrust of the government, it becomes easier and easier to claim that anyone working inside the government is to blame for that. It was easy for Trump or Bernie to cite downfalls in federal governance on Clinton because she has had a pivotal role in that governing — regardless of her position on that specific issue.

What really is the establishment? Depending on who and what you are talking about, it can be individuals who have been involved in politics for generations, it can be the old white men who run Morgan Stanley or it could be just any individual who have been instrumental in shaping a political party or an economic system.

As the child of a woman who grew up in Northern California protesting wars and boycotting large corporations, it was nothing new for me to hate on “the man.” I first identified my issues with this rhetoric, however, during this past election cycle.

I was sitting in ECON 363 — or micro theory — and we were learning some basic tenets behind Radical Political Economy. Basically, one premise is that capitalists gain control over the educational and media sectors and get to manipulate them to promote capitalist interest.

I absolutely understand and believe that curriculum is based on reproducing a standardized labor force based on your socioeconomic standing. There is no doubt that media is ruled by financial incentive. But when that rhetoric leads to a distrust of all media and all establishments, we see the rise of anti-intellectualism and populist ideals.

I have never quite understood anti-intellectualism. I personally like when experienced individuals are in charge of our government. I prefer those who have a history of working within the system, those who have the right connections and expertise, those who have been vetted thoroughly and properly.

If Hillary Clinton is the establishment, then it must also be argued that Cecile Richards, Wendy Davis, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand and Kate Brown are part of the Democratic Establishment. These are women who have fought to break down barriers across our country — and across the world in some cases. If that is “the establishment” I do not have a problem supporting it.

Merely because candidates (and the vast majority of the electorate who was not young and white) supported more reasonable policy that was more likely to pass does not mean they would be opposed to more progressive policy going through. I would love a successful single payer healthcare system, but the problem is that if that policy fails, millions would be left without health care.

I far prefer a world where progressive values are upheld to a certain extent to a world where progressive policy fails and we are left with no rights or protections. Partisan purity is problematic insofar as it does not take into account any real world circumstances — it is anti-compromise, anti-democratic and anti-intersectionality.

To not acknowledge that when inside the establishment, individuals such as Sanders, Barack Obama, Warren and Clinton have fought for changes is a disgrace to all the hard work that they had to put in to get to where they are.

To not acknowledge that Obama and Clinton have had to do everything other presidential candidates have done but backwards and twice as fast to get to where they are shows your privilege and how disconnected you are from how the system works.

If these individuals can fight for incremental change and to marginally improve the system, I will proudly support them before supporting an alt-left, progressive, burn the system down campaign.

I am a proud supporter of a single payer healthcare system, but in a democratic system with an increasingly polarized federal government, I will without a doubt accept and support an extension of the Affordable Care Act in its place. When compromise is not likely to come on even moderate approaches, why risk all the progress we have already made by attempting to burn it all down?

I would love to stick it to the man, but I don’t think that always means having new blood in our political system, especially when it gives way to alternative facts and populist policy.

 

qimanfull@willamette.edu

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