Why is America caught in a trap of emotions, unthinking politics, and what seems to be an inexorable erosion of core values?
In a sense, the easiest questions pertain to politics. Let me begin with the corruption of the Republican and Democrat parties. The electorate rejected a thoroughly established Democrat for a Republican who had blown up his Party.
All but two of the candidates in the two primaries were shaped by their respective parties insistent interest groups. Default settings responded to questions about schools or guns or health care or whatever. Robots were displacing jobs in more than the manufacturing and service sectors. Most candidate’s operating systems were programmed.
All but two of the candidates failed to sense a radically restive populace, that while prepared to buy from a robotic clerk had no interest in a programmed president. And even though the two candidates, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, were well outside the normal zone of electability, the one closest to an angry populace won. The losers didn’t understand what happened nor did the thousands who led America’s established institutions. In particular, the news media was surprised and then distraught.
What about core values that have historically been behavioral curbs? In a sense, the breach of values became a proxy for reform. And while so-called progressives will blanch at attaching reform to President Trump, that is exactly what he is, a reformist. He is doing his level best to reshape (reform) decorum, process, and ultimately the relationships between the government and a wide range of constituencies, both domestic and foreign.
Trump is, of course, an out-sized figure and a magnet for reporters and pundits. Each day is filled with some new outrage. I was amused to see the New York Times run an article claiming the Wall Street Journal had not been sufficiently anti-Trump. Wall Street Journal reporters and pundits were insufficient only if the New York Times’ hyper-ventilating is the new baseline.
It is, of course, a monumental task to thoughtfully assess the underlying cultural changes that made Trump’s election possible. I would suggest, however, that assessing seminal changes is not beyond the competence of a variety of on-line and print publications.
Let me begin the early stages of the inquiry with a few questions beginning on the left. Do monopolistic public employee unions and their interests pose a threat to government competence and finances? Is college the only acceptable career beginning? Do identity politics lead to a dead end? Is there a misalignment between the art of the possible and campaign generated expectations?
Turning to the right. Does sacrifice abroad carry any responsibility at home? Do all tax decreases generate offsetting revenue through economic growth? Is there any weapon not protected by the Second Amendment? Is school choice the only answer to America’s education and related jobs problems?
I close holding onto a hard to let go assumption. I remain convinced that persons of integrity, who also exhibit thoughtful leadership talents, retain an electoral advantage. Yet, today’s established parties and their orthodoxies make optimism more difficult.
Al Sikes’ leadership helped shape the arc of 21st century communication technologies from positions as Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and then President of Hearst New Media. In 2004, the Manhattan Institute chose Sikes as one of eight winners of the Social Entrepreneurship Award for having founded READ ALLIANCE, which trains teenagers to tutor children with reading deficiencies. Sikes second book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow was recently published by Koehler Books.