Antiestablishment is Establishment: A Brief Introduction to Antiestablishment Political Rhetoric in the United States

A common theme in American politics is the antiestablishment movement. For the past few years in particular, there has been an increased amount of rhetoric aimed against the political establishment. Among the droves of private citizens, like you and me, are those who feel disenfranchised and disconnected from the decision-making branching out of Washington, D.C. And this is for good reason, too: our policymakers, the ones whom we endow with decision-making authority through free and public election, forget (or have never known) what it is like to live ordinary meat-and-potato lives.

The United States was built upon the antiestablishment mentality. To create a unique brand of representative democracy, the Founders drew upon their experiences with European monarchies. Monarchies protect themselves against insurgents through a lineal succession of power, from parent to child and so on. This type of government promotes a concentration of power within a royal family and other aristocratic families. History offers ample proof with how centralized power has deprived the masses of basic human needs such as food, shelter, and happiness. Antiestablishment thought led a group of revolutionary thinkers and doers to form a people-centered government, and imbued the resultant democracy with antiestablishment checks and balances.

Put another way, antiestablishment is the establishment in the United States. We organize free elections every two, four, and six years for a variety of public offices so we can collectively decide who should go and who should stay.

Antiestablishment, nationalist movements appear to be happening more frequently in other democratic nations, too. Whether through free election, ballot proposition, or legislative policy-making, these movements appear to be growing more strongly. In a rapidly changing and continually globalizing world, it can be easy for some of our fellow citizens to feel nervous or afraid for the direction of our nation. Politicians or political candidates notice some of the fears and, instead of reassurance, inflame or incite additional fears. This is where an antiestablishment mentality can go awry, and where it does: the politician’s primary goal is (re)election, and s/he may say or do what is perceived necessary to win (re)election.

As a campaign tool, it was genius of Donald Trump to use these fears and feelings of disenfranchisement as a way to garner support his antiestablishment movement. That he has no political background bolstered his appeal, combined with some mistrust many Americans have about the candidate the Democrats nominated: Hillary Clinton, who has an impressive résumé of public service. The problem with Mr. Trump, though, is that his rhetoric divided the United States in such a large way because he used hate as his campaign’s primary language. Furthermore, as I mention above, he is not really antiestablishment.

Mr. Trump has spent his entire life benefiting from the establishment. His massive empire is successful in part because of the economic policies of both Democratic and Republican presidents. While it is too early to know just yet, it is logical to assume that economic policies developed and implemented by the Trump Administration will be enhanced versions of policies already in existence. Because of his financial success, it may be safe to assume that American capitalism will not experience drastic changes. Mr. Trump has also filled his Cabinet with strongly establishment-oriented individuals. This, to date, has been the American way.

To be clear: this is not an Anti-Trump essay but rather a quick and critical examination of antiestablishment rhetoric in the United States. In a future editorial, we will explore more fully differences in antiestablishment thought as it pertains to American democracy and government.

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