Yesterday I wrote about a new political dichotomy in America. This new dichotomy supersedes or suspends all other political dichotomies: left vs. right, Democrat vs. Republican, etc. This new American political dichotomy is elites vs. plebeians.
Elites and Plebeians
Think of elites as the people who donate lots of money and give lots of favors to the party in power in exchange for favors.Think of plebeians as those who say “huh?” as they watch the government take their kids’ money and give it to billionaires who failed in business or banking.
Eventually, the plebeians will figure out that plebeians under 33 have little chance of retiring and a smaller chance of owning a home thanks to government-mandated generational theft. Every person born today owes the government nearly $186,000 in debt, and teenagers are told they must take on another $100,000 in debt to get a college degree. And the supposed housing recovery is confined to $1 million and up homes because the middle class is broke.
Eventually, the plebeians will realize they have more in common with plebeians than with the political party they’ve blindly voted for and supported all their lives. I’m an example of this having voted Republican with the consistency of molasses in January.
Eventually, we will hold that Universal Veto meeting and from it will come a small platform of three or four or five planks that almost all plebeians support.
But then what?
A Temporary Truce?
How about this. Suppose 10 groups attend in that meeting. What if each of those groups committed to promoting only that handful of issues for 30 days. No calling each other names. No obsessing over issues not on the list. A 30 day focus on just a few issues we all support.
After 30 days, we all get back together and decide whether to continue for 60 days. Then we do it again and commit to 120 days. Then 240.
At this point, 10 formerly opposed groups in some city like St. Louis will have spent 15 months focusing all their energy on four common planks in a very skinny platform. Imagine the power we’d wield together against crony capitalism, corporate welfare, domestic spying, and the opaque Fed.
Yes, those are tiny steps. But a march of a thousand miles . . . and all that. The Universal Veto session (see what I did there?) could set a precedence that begins a sea change in American politics–a sea change already under way without direction or purpose.
And if it fails, we wasted, what, an hour or two? You probably waste that much time every week reading this blog.
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Before we get to politics, I want to tell you about a business exercise.
The Universal Veto Game
Sometimes my job as a consultant involves helping people decide what to do when no ideas have a consensus. Sure, someone in a hierarchy can dictate terms, but dictated solutions don’t really work in business. Cooperation and collaboration are too important for success, and dictated terms are usually executed half-assed.
So we play this game. It’s called the Universal Veto game.
Everybody in the meeting (usually 15-20 people) writes one project they’d like to do on a 3×5 Post-It note. Then they write another. And another until everybody has 10 notes and 10 pet projects.
Next, each person selects three “cannot live without” projects from his stack and posts those three Post-Its on a wall.
Then, we take 10 minutes to walk along the wall and read all of the projects.
At the end of the 10 minutes, everyone is authorized to remove any Post-Its they don’t like for any reason. Everyone has a veto over every idea.
We usually end up with 3 or 4 Post-Its that no one objects to. At least a few people consider these remaining ideas a top three priority for the company. By focusing on any one of those three projects, management and the project’s champions can count on broad support and no strong opposition.
Now, imagine if we brought together 15-20 representatives of various “warring” political factions in the USA and played the same game. You’d see Post-Its that say things like “Kill the Rich” and “Outlaw Abortion” and “Ban Guns.” There’d be ideas like a balanced budget amendment, the fair tax, flat tax, and $25 minimum wage.
But there would be a few ideas on that wall of Post-Its, too. “End Crony Capitalism,” “Abolish Corporate Welfare,” “Stop Spying on Americans,” “Audit the Federal Reserve.”
I bet if we brought together hard left Democrats like Elizabeth Warren and hard-right Republicans and Libertarians and Occupy Wall Streeters and Focus on the Family and whoever, those last four ideas would remain.
That’s the new political dichotomy in America. The old left vs. right, Democrat vs. Republican, progressive vs. conservative, atheist vs. evangelical dichotomies aren’t dead–they just don’t matter right now.
Those old dichotomies that you and I grew up fighting don’t matter because none of us is in control of the debate. We’re not allowed to fight our cherished old battles because we’ve lost control of the debate switch.
The new dichotomy in America is Elite vs. Plebeian. It’s the Political Class vs. the Subject Class. And it’s the only dichotomy that matters.
At some point, we are called to fight the battle the new dichotomy poses. That might mean a new party that includes some former enemies. And that new Plebeian party will have a focus as narrow as the Republican Party did when Abe Lincoln was elected. Imagine a platform with these four planks:
Crush crony capitalism
Abolish corporate welfare
End warrantless domestic spying
Subject the Federal Reserve to regular public audits
I suspect such a platform would generate broad support. We’d knock off these projects in fairly short order. We’d then deal with the unforeseen consequences of our ideas. (They’ll come. Believe me.)
Then we can go back to our old battles, but those battles will be less bitter because we’ll be fighting against our brothers and sisters in arms.
Would you tear down any of these those four planks? If so, please tell me why.
Today after what we saw Marco Rubiodo last night, he was out there attacking Trump on twitter and Trump was like, got one for you, BOOM! Now the guy who defined Marco a few weeks ago is back in the game. He’s engaged, and he’s working with Trump. BOOM!
And New Gingrich tweeted:
This Chris Christie endorsement of Trump is real signal to GOP establishment that they had better begin thinking about Trump as the future
Just a little while later, Maine’s governor endorsed Trump. And John Kasich predicted a Trump sweep on Super Tuesday, saying “nobody’s gonna win but Trump,” before admitting he doesn’t know about Texas.
There are the protected and the unprotected. The protected make public policy. The unprotected live in it. The unprotected are starting to push back, powerfully.
The protected are the accomplished, the secure, the successful—those who have power or access to it. They are protected from much of the roughness of the world. More to the point, they are protected from the world they have created.Again, they make public policy and have for some time.
In his terrific book, Private Truths, Public Lies:The Social Consequences of Preference Falsification, Timur Kuran writes about the phenomenon he calls “preference falsification”: People tend to hide unpopular views to avoid ostracism or punishment; they stop hiding them when they feel safe.
This can produce rapid change: In totalitarian societies like the old Soviet Union, the police and propaganda organizations do their best to enforce preference falsification. Such regimes have little legitimacy, but they spend a lot of effort making sure that citizens don’t realize the extent to which their fellow-citizens dislike the regime. If the secret police and the censors are doing their job, 99% of the populace can hate the regime and be ready to revolt against it — but no revolt will occur because no one realizes that everyone else feels the same way.
This works until something breaks the spell and the discontented realize that their feelings are widely shared, at which point the collapse of the regime may seem very sudden to outside observers — or even to the citizens themselves. Kuran calls this sudden change a “preference cascade,” and I wonder if that’s not what’s happening here.
Sarah Palin made it okay for Tea Partiers to support Trump. With Christie’s endorsement, it’s now okay for mainstream Republicans to admit they hate the elites.
Donald Trump probably reads my blog first thing every day.
Until today, I figured Donald Trump never heard of me. He’s never mentioned me in his tweet storms. He’s never called me an idiot or a liar during a debate. He’s never pointed to one of my many egregious typos and tweeted:
“@whennessy left out the word ‘for’. Confused everyone. Worst blogger in politics. Just sad.”
(The guy has 2.6 6.35 million followers. I’ll send him a small donation if he tweet-storms me. His twitterhood is like a small country!)
In the past two years, I’ve talked about two broad themes.
In 2014, my big theme was the New Political Dichotomy. In 2015, my big theme was leading with the people we want to help (inspired by Arthur C. Brooks of American Enterprise Institute).
I never thought about Donald Trump when I ruminated on those themes. Donald Trump seems like the antithesis of both. Until you read quotes from interviews with people who voted for him in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Then it smacks you in the head. His voters see America’s greatest threat as the idiot political elites who don’t listen and don’t speak to them.
So it turns out I was 100 percent, totally right in both of those themes. More right than even I thought I was.
Let me do a quick summary of those two years in blogging for you.
The old battle lines of American politics have been erased. The battle is no longer Left vs. Right, Liberal (or Progressive) vs. Conservative, Democrat vs. Republican, Statism vs. Liberty, or any other old battle. They’re all over.
The new dichotomy is Elites (or Establishment) vs. Plebes (or the Rest of Us).
In this new dichotomy, winners will be those who can let go of the bitterness from the old dichotomy. We might have to work with old enemies because there’s a greater common threat. For example, in the old dichotomy, we would simply trash whatever came from the mouths of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. In the new dichotomy, we recognize that Sanders and Warren are 100 percent right about many of the problems they identify, but the solutions they offer are horrible. Instead of pretending (lying) that they’re wrong about corporations and big banks and crony capitalism, we should say “right on,” and offer the free market or liberty solution to the common problem. That’s the new dichotomy.
This is about message more than substance, because messaging is killing conservatism and liberty. Conservatism, Constitutional integrity, and liberty are all abstract concepts. People who worry about those things respond to those words, but that’s only about 19 percent of Americans. That leaves 81 percent rolling their eyes and shaking their heads at us as we defend our dogma. On August 10 I wrote:
While the dogma must have its defenders, preaching the dogma guarantees that we remain nothing more than an irritant to the Republican establishment and a godsend to progressives.
Why? Because most people don’t care about our dogma. They care about getting through life the best they can. And it’s not their job to figure out how our orthodoxy helps them do that.
Our job is to translate our principles into broad, moral direction for our country with specific goals that will make people’s lives better. Shouting “liberty,” repeating historical chants like “give me liberty or give me death,” doesn’t improve anyone’s life, even the speaker’s.
Ted Cruz talks about abstract concepts, but Ronald Reagan talked more like Trump. Reagan was milder than Trump, but he used language the same way. Here’s an example: In Cruz’s announcement speech at Liberty University, he mentioned “conservative” or “conservatism” six times. Ronald Reagan never used the term when he announced his run in 1979. Reagan talked to regular people about their lives. We latter day conservatives chat amongst ourselves about abstract concepts, then we wonder why 81 percent of Americans tune us out.
More accurately, people hear Donald Trump tell it like he sees it. Even if they don’t agree, people love the fact that he’s plainspoken and blunt. As he sees it, the elites who’ve been running America are stupid, and they’re getting their asses handed to them by America’s trading partners and enemies. And ordinary, working Americans pay the price for our leaders’ stupidity. When he’s president, he’ll build a wall to keep illegals out, and he’ll make Mexico pay for it. He’ll be the toughest trade negotiator God ever created, and he’ll negotiate deals that will make American companies want to move jobs back to the U.S. of A. Millions and millions of great jobs people can be proud of. He’ll build a military so strong and so well trained and so well equipped that nobody will ever even consider messing with us ever again. And he doesn’t want people dropping dead in the streets because they couldn’t afford a doctor. Terrorists? He’ll torture their asses. You have a country or you don’t.
You can’t get tastier concrete at Ted Drewes. Not a single abstract principle in the mix. Agree or disagree with his positions or his temperament, the man speaks in words you can chew.
The reason Donald Trump has the broadest and deepest support in the 2016 race is because he speaks in concrete imagery from the perspective of the Plebes in the New Dichotomy. Trump leads with the people he wants to help. There’s nothing more concrete than a wall. There’s no one who deserves more help than someone who wants to work and can’t find a decent job.
And nothing builds loyalty like helping someone help himself.
I’m not saying Trump is a conservative. I’m not saying he’ll make a great president. And I’m not saying Trump actually believes everything he says. I really don’t know. I am saying he probably reads my blog and decided to put to the test my ideas of a new dichotomy expressed in concrete terms about the people he wants to help.
And so far, the test is working, so I guess I was right. Good for me!
Ted Cruz has everything it takes to be an extraordinary — even historic — president and lead the nation out of its current quagmire.
He just needs to say what he’s going to do, in concrete terms, and underscore why he can be counted on more than all others to do it — because of his record, his commitment to action and his demonstrated courage in fighting establishment power brokers who will resist him.
You don’t hear the word “mainstream” in political spin like you used to.
Back in the late 1980s when Jack Kemp, Pat Robertson, Pete DuPont, Al Haig, and George H. W. Bush were battling to replace
Ronald Reagan, “mainstream” was in. Candidates fought for the title of “mainstream Republican,” “mainstream Conservative,” “mainstream everything.”
I’m glad that word went away. But I’m bringing it back, if only for one blog post.
I was listening to my favorite podcast tonight driving home from work: James Altucher. Speaking of the former WWE wrestler Kane, Altucher said:
He knows a lot about economics and his politics lean towards libertarian, but he has a more mainstream side.
The date of that podcast is July 18, 2013.
I get it. Back in 2013, libertarian was still a fringe ideology. Back in 2013, there were only two “mainstream” ideologies operating in the USA: Democrat and Republican. One builds insurmountable mounds of debt to buy votes, the other builds insurmountable piles of debt to buy campaign donations from the Chamber of Commerce. And occasionally the two parties entertain us by yelling at each other in public.
That’s all changed, of course. Libertarian—the ideology, not the party—is the new mainstream in America. The two old parties? Well, they’re the fringe.
The Democrats and the Republicans represent coalitions of selfish interests: big government, big labor, big minorities, big old people, big banks, big espionage, big corporations. Both parties reflect the post-WWII era that fed them their power.
To see how the parties derived their immense power, look at the way generational historians Howe and Strauss describe the post-war era in their classic, The Fourth Turning, in 1997:
People now in their forties [sixties] or older widely remember this as an era when large institutions were regarded as effective, government as powerful, science as benign, schools as good, careers as reliable, families as strong, and crime as under control. Government could afford to do almost anything it wanted, while still balancing its budget. From year to year, the middle class grew, and the gap between rich and poor narrowed. Worker productivity and family incomes grew at the fastest pace ever measured, with no end in sight. John Kenneth Galbraith wrote of The Affluent Society in which poverty was no longer “a major problem” but “more nearly an afterthought.” “The frontiers of our economic system are formed by our mental attitude and our unity,” said Harold Stassen in 1946, “rather than by any limitation of science or of productivity.” Abroad, Americans saw themselves bearing a new imperial role, believing, with J. Robert Oppenheimer, that “the world alters as we walk in it.” They took pride in a nation described by British historian Robert Payne as “a Colossus” with “half the wealth of the world, more than half of the productivity, nearly two-thirds of the world’s machines.”
Howe, Neil; Strauss, William (2009-01-16). The Fourth Turning (Kindle Locations 2945-2950). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
Remember, the people who dominated American politics for most of my 50 years reflect on that era as “normal.” From Eisenhower through George H. W. Bush, every American President was a product of WWII and the American High. Think about the messages of Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush (41). To all of these men, The Best Days of Our Lives served as the model for American normalcy. Their campaigns—even Jimmy Carter’s first campaign—promised a return to the simple, optimistic normalcy of 1950s American.
Heck, in his 2011 State of the Union address, even Barack Obama channeled Howdy Doody and Buffalo Bob. Even those of us born after the American High—Gen X and Millennials and the unnamed generation beginning middle school next month—the simple happiness of the post-war years serves as the ideal for America. We learned about it in television reruns and old movies. As Strauss and Howe put it:
Thanks to vintage TV and nostalgia movies, deeply etched memories of the American High are continually recalled decades later.
When I think about that era and our collective desire to go back, I think of a Christmas song I hated as a kid. I hated it, because I didn’t want to grow up and leave the mystery and potential of childhood. It was Doris Day’s “Toyland.”
Little girl and boy land
While you dwell within it
You are ever happy there
Childhood’s joy land
Mystic merry toyland
Once you pass its borders
You can ne’er return again
We should have listened to that sad, simple song when our national leaders promised to return to the American High.
That promise of innocence restored gave the two big parties big powers. From 1946 to about 1992, we trusted big institutions. Sure, the 1960s challenged the idea of government’s goodness, but that tantrum died down once Nixon resigned. By the late 1970s, we were burned out on bell-bottoms, beads, and beards. We looked forward to “normalcy,” and we elected just the man to restore it: Ronald Reagan.
Reagan tried. And he succeeded, in some sense. The 1980s were Morning in America. Remember this?
Ah, but Doris Day warned us:
When you’ve grown up, my dears
And are as old as I
You’ll laugh and ponder on the years
That roll so swiftly by, my dears
That roll so swiftly by
Those two big parties still think Pax Americana, and prosperity, are just around the corner. And they think that Americans see only two choices: the Democrat way or the Republican way.
But Americans are defining a third way.
Why do I think libertarianism is the new mainstream?
I’ve already said that the old mainstream, like childhood, has passed, and once passed its borders we never can return. But there’s something more. Again, I look toward Strauss and Howe for glimpses of how America will change in the next decade.
During the coming Fourth Turning, some of these climax ingredients will play little or no role at all; others will shoot along channels that swell, diverge, and reconnect in wholly unforeseeable ways. Eventually, all of America’s lesser problems will combine into one giant problem. The very survival of the society will feel at stake, as leaders lead and people follow. Public issues will be newly simple, fitting within the contours of crisp yes-no choices. People will leave niches to join interlocking teams, each team dependent on (and trusting of) work done by other teams. People will share similar hopes and sacrifices—and a new sense of social equality. The splinterings, complexities, and cynicisms of the Unraveling will be but distant memories. The first glimpses of a new golden age will appear beyond: if only this one big problem can be fixed.
Decisive events will occur—events so vast, powerful, and unique that they lie beyond today’s wildest hypotheses. These events will inspire great documents and speeches, visions of a new political order being framed. People will discover a hitherto unimagined capacity to fight and die, and to let their children fight and die, for a communal cause. The Spirit of America will return, because there will be no other choice.
Thus will Americans reenact the great ancient myth of the ekpyrosis. Thus will we achieve our next rendezvous with destiny.
While we have yet to reach the climax of our Crisis era (we’re still up to a decade away), the battle lines are already drawn.
For as long as anyone alive can remember, the battle lines were Democrat vs. Republican, left vs. right, collectivism vs. individualism, liberal vs. conservative. But those old lines have worn as thin and useless as Barack Obama’s red line in Syria. Young Gen Xers and Millennials no longer see the world in those post-war terms. They see another battle: institutions vs. people.
Part of millennials’ apparent support for big government is tied to the generation’s larger disconnect with the political rhetoric that has shaped the national narrative since the end of World War II. This trend is probably a result of two things. First, that millennials simply don’t fully understand what some of these terms mean, and second, that the prevailing discourse has started to lose relevance for this new generation after the end of the Cold War. Rather than flocking to one party or another, millennials are identifying as independents more than their predecessors did and tend to view their party choice as the lesser of two evils.
Millennials are the largest generation in American history, eclipsing the Boomers by several million people. When you add their numbers to Generation X, which is also distrustful of institutions, you get a massive, youngish population ready to shift responsibility for social good from Washington to city hall.
I admit that one of the two parties might seize on this libertarian shift, jump in front of the parade, and claim dominance toward the end of the Crisis era around 2025. Or a different party could emerge. One that represents the anti-federal government people against the aging and confused, but entrenched and powerful, political class.
However this plays out, don’t expect the old Democrat-Republican dichotomy to last much longer. Its days are numbered. When last of the Boomers enter elderhood in 2022, the world will look very different. The mainstream will look more libertarian. Activist government will recede, as will many of our sacred social norms.
And that’s a good thing, in my view. The powerful government in Washington is hostile to religion. If that government’s power grows much stronger, the religious right’s ability even to practice religion will face new threats. But as central control diminishes, so does government’s power to compress freedom. And that includes freedom to pray.
As I said, libertarian is the new mainstream. At least, we better hope so.
It’s funny, really, that America celebrates the day we signed up to fight a brutal war for independence, not the day that war was won.
But I want to write about football.
I’ve always hated the Dallas Cowboys.
Cut me a little slack, though. I was a Big Red fan from childhood, and a season ticket holder from 1978 to 1983. (“Big Red” refers to the St. Louis Football Cardinals for those of you under 40.) My heroes were Conrad Dobler, Dan Dierdorf, Jim Hart, Tim Van Gelder, Terry Metcalf, Jim Otis, Council Roudolf, Roger Wherle, Larry Stallings, Larry Wilson, J.V. Cain, Roger Finney, Tom Banks, Bob Young, Mel Grey, Roy Green, Pat Tilley, Ottis Anderson, Theotis Brown, Jim Bakken, Johnny “Dr. Doom” Barefield . . . shall I go on?
The St. Louis Cardinals played in the NFC East in the 1970s and 1980s, along with the Dallas Cowboys, the Washington Redskins, the Philadelphia Eagles, and the New York Giants. That was a killer division back then, and the Cowboys were killerest of all.
My anti-Cowboy aquifer runs so deep and cold that I once said, “If the Cowboys were playing al Qaeda I don’t know who I’d root for.”
As I matured . . . Strike that. I haven’t matured.
After the Cardinals moved onto Phoenix, my passions against the Cowboys subsided a bit. When Jerry Jones crassly fired the legendary coach Tom Landry, I immediately became a Tom Landry fan. Landry might have been the wisest and most gentlemanly NFL head coach of all time.
Tom Landry took winning as seriously as the next guy, but football and winning were not the most important things to Landry. In 1979, he berated and fired linebacker Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson because Henderson was goofing with a camera while his team was getting massacred on the football field.
Just this morning, 9/11/94, I heard Hollywood Henderson — X-Cowboy of considerable fame — from Austin on the Fox Network. He said that in the days when he was playing for the Cowboys and “at the same time doing drugs,” and “ruining his life,” he “resented Tom Landry.” He resented Tom Landry’s Christianity, and the fact that he had a happy family life.
Now, in 1994, after spending some time in prison, and after 11 years of being free of his drug addiction, Hollywood Henderson says that he has a little different slant on life. He said that he once was hopeless, but is now hopeful. He says that today, Tom Landry is his “role model”!
The Hollywood Henderson story typifies Tom Landry’s simple definition of leadership:
Leadership is getting someone to do what they don’t want to do, to achieve what they want to achieve.
—Tom Landry, Hall of Fame Coach of the Dallas Cowboys
Few people actually want to lift weights, eat healthy diets, and build stamina. But we all want to avoid disease, live long lives, and look good in a swimming suit. We need someone to help us do what we don’t want to do so we can achieve what we want to achieve. That someone is a leader.
America didn’t want to go through another deep recession in the early 1980s, but Ronald Reagan and Paul Volcker knew we wanted America to flourish again, so they orchestrated an interest rate driven recession that finally choked out inflation—from 13.5% in 1981 to 3.2% in 1983.
And the Revolutionary Army didn’t want to winter in Valley Forge, but Washington helped them fight through to ultimate victory and independence.
I know some people don’t like my criticizing Republicans who put their own personal agenda or the party’s power before American greatness and freedom. I sure don’t like it. Many are even more reluctant to get leverage on the GOP with bold actions. People worry that getting political leverage on Republicans could help Democrats and their anti-freedom agenda.
But we need more than a victorious Republican Party. We really don’t care about the name of the party that delivers us from tyranny, crony capitalism, and fascism. We want a strong, prosperous, and free America. In the words of the preamble to the Constitution, we want to secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and posterity.
Here’s what Hollywood Henderson said about Tom Landry:
I have a vision of him standing on that tower. He was maybe three stories above the team in training camp. That’s sort of where I remember him the five years I was in the Cowboys’ training camp–30 feet in the air overseeing us. Untouchable. We couldn’t throw a rock and hit him. I tell you, you sort of didn’t like him. You were afraid of him. You resented him. But when the dust settled, you wanted to be like him. When you had a family, took care of a company, managed people, you idolized him.
I think it’s a uniquely American quality that we commemorate the dates we signed up to do the hard work, not the dates we accomplished the mission. July 4th, 1776. December 7, 1941. September 11, 2001. We are a people of rash vows. Or, at least, we wish we were.
G. K. Chesterton wrote an essay “In Defence of Rash Vows.” In it, he summarized the importance of this American tendency to celebrate the making of the vow:
The man who makes a vow makes an appointment with himself at some distant time or place. The danger of it is that himself should not keep the appointment. And in modern times this terror of one’s self, of the weakness and mutability of one’s self, has perilously increased, and is the real basis of the objection to vows of any kind.
Tom Landry’s leadership gives us the confidence to make appointments with ourselves in the future so long as we have leaders who will drive us to do what we don’t want to do in order that might keep our appointment.
I never wanted to like Tom Landry. But I want to achieve the kind of things he achieved–helping people reach their goals even those goals required them doing things they don’t want to do.