The Establishment: What is it? Why does it Matter? – a few provisional reflections

The Guardian reported recently on studies saying that so called working classes tend to vote Republican because they distrust and dislike “the establishment” and the GOP takes an anti establishment position.  It raises a question.  What is “the establishment?”

It could be big corporations, big banks, and the industrial-military complex.  It’s an establishment of wealthy elite who have little interest in the well-being of the “working class” as long as they continue producing bottom line profits.  At the same time, it’s an establishment that bankrolls America’s prosperity, or lack of it.  It’s capitalism at work, but it isn’t democratic capitalism unless regulated by democratic government to work as much as possible on behalf of the common good. It is an essential establishment, but dangerous, even untrustworthy. Under the moniker “free enterprise” it seeks to minimize government oversight regardless of effect on the public interest.  Like all things in a democracy, it’s a matter of balance  – enough regulation but not too much.

It could be the coastal, intellectual elite, the liberal snobs who think they are better and smarter than everyone else, and know little of the  life of real people in the real America.  It seems they feel entitled to tell others how they should live their lives, what’s best for them, and why the working class can’t be relied on to care for themselves and the nation in the right way.  It’s an establishment that exists more in the imagination than reality, although there are outspoken examples of it that give the appearance of size and power.  Demographic maps show that about sixty percent of America’s population lives east of the 100th meridian (a hundred miles or so west of the Mississippi).  The majority of those live close to the east coast or Great Lakes.  Of the roughly forty percent living in the west, most live between the Pacific and Cascade/Sierra mountains.  There are a few exceptions such as Phoenix and Denver.  This enormous coastal population is a stew of every sort dominated by the poor and working classes.  As fully engaged in getting through life and facing problems just like everyone else. They may not be all that aware of life on the other side of coastal mountain ranges.  Equally true, those in the midlands face the same conditions of life and pay scant attention to what’s gong on in the lives of real Americans living in coastal regions 

The much reviled intellectual elite are few, literate, curious, college educated, well traveled, aware of how we are all connected.  They are a source of creative, new ideas to make life better for all. They too are an essential establishment for any democratic society. They generate ideas and movements that push society toward greater justice and opportunity but are prone to over estimating benefits and underestimating costs while misjudging the nation’s willingness to go along.  Nevertheless, without them democracies stumble toward autocracy, not by revolution but through complacency that places security over everything else.

The establishment could be the federal bureaucracy, what some call “the deep state.” They are the career government employees who staff departments, formulate regulations required by law.  Unelected, in place from administration to administration, they are believed by many to be the true rulers of the nation who create little kingdoms for themselves.  The British comedy series “Yes Minister” made the image into a farce, but many see it as a dangerous threat to citizens and their freedom.  It’s a product of frustration and imagination, but not without a bit of truth.   Career civil servants acquire status by the amount of resources they control and the size of staff supervised.  Little fiefdoms exist. Managers are accountable for how federal laws are implemented, incentivized to see that every i is dotted and every t crossed.  Lacking efficient interrelated data systems, duplication is built in.  With accountability directed upward, there is little motivation to make consumer satisfaction a priority. In my opinion, making the bureaucracy accountable for consumer satisfaction would go far to improve public trust.  Nevertheless, the bureaucracy is an establishment essential to any enduring society, and critical to a democracy such as ours. From ancient times, nations with a professional bureaucracy endured.  Those without did not.

I believe these three are the primary manifestations of “The Establishment.”  Are they the enemies of the people, a threat to the nation?  No. They are essential to our ability to endure and prosper as a democratic republic with liberal ideals.  But each must be monitored to see that they work effectively and efficiently for the good of the nation.  The need to regulate business and industry is obvious.  Their impact on consumers, workers, the environment, and each other is enormous, easily manipulated for selfish purposes.  They are amoral institutions under no obligation to benefit anyone but themselves.

The intellectual elite require freedom of speech, academic freedom, and access to study, R&D, and the ability to implement new ideas and technology.  Because of their outsized ability to influence others, they must be kept open to challenges in the public arena and their tendency to isolation in “ivory towers”checked through conversation with their intellectual equals living in “the real world.”

Perhaps the most important is the bureaucracy.  For all their dedication and hard work, don’t laugh, they are dedicated and work hard.  Nevertheless, the culture of the entire apparatus must be reoriented to customer service.  That will require stern guidance from the top.  No secretary or administrator should be considered until they commit to said guidance.  Senior civil servants likewise must understand their own performance will be judged on the measure of customer satisfaction.  It’s not impossible. It is the only way to reverse the government if the enemy mentality that grips public opinion.   Are there any examples of it being done right?  Consider the  Department of Agriculture County agents as a place to start.

Addendum: I am ignoring the Trumpian fantasy that the DOJ and FBI are puppets of the Biden administration. Trump tried to weaponize them, and came close.  I guess Trumpians think that’s what every president does.

2 thoughts on “The Establishment: What is it? Why does it Matter? – a few provisional reflections”

  1. When Reagan said that government wasn’t the solute, but the problem I about gagged. I live in a place, that without the resources that only a government can muster, our industries, like wheat farming or grape growers couldn’t thrive. We pump water from the Columbia to make the desert grow. We regulate the rivers to allow barge traffic to move produce, etc. The government (and tax payers everywhere), built and controls the levers that make the modern world possible.

  2. Thank you, I’m going to have my grandson read this to give him better perspective!

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