Trump: The Role of the Establishment

There is something funny about the establishment’s dismay at Donald Trump’s election victory. It is not so much the disruption of their suspicious comfort and contentment. We still don’t know how disrupted they will be, because we don’t know what Mr. Trump’s policies will be. Judging from the financial markets’ salivating at new stimulus expenditures, they may not be disrupted much.

What is really funny is how the establishment itself is responsible of the alienation of the “deplorable” part of the electorate.

An editorial in the Financial Times of November 9 illustrated this irony. It lamented Mr. Trump’s election as “a threat to the western democratic model” and a “grievous blow to the liberal international order.” A priori, you never know if, by “liberal,” a European writer means the socialist or the libertarian strand that came out of 19th-century classical liberals like John Stuart Mill, but the Financial Times editorial writers are generally closer to the soft-socialist bifurcation. The newspaper had backed Hillary Clinton, which it admits was “the ultimate establishment candidate.”

What the establishment did to nurture a populist reaction during the last several decades can be subsumed under two broad headings.

First, it grew the regulatory state like a mad environmentalist would tend to a rain forest. A compilation by John Dawson (Appalachian State University) and John Seater (North Carolina State University) shows that the Code of Federal Regulations (an annual consolidation of all federal regulations) grew seven-fold between 1949 and 2005 –- to 134,261 pages. The two academics estimate that this regulatory yoke has cut two-thirds of potential income. And this does not take into account state and local regulations.

These abstract numbers have practical meaning for the typical Trump voter -– the white middle-class male earning above, but perhaps not much above, the median income. He is one whose economic opportunities have been most restricted by regulations, including by state-sanctioned discrimination, without his benefiting much from the Welfare State. Consider the difficulties of self-employment when nearly 30% of employed Americans now need an occupational license to earn their living, compared to less than 5% six decades ago.

The second way the establishment and its intelligentsia alienated Trump’s voters is political correctness, which explains why the candidate’s politically incorrect statements and behavior helped his rise instead of hindering it. A recent article in an academic journal, Progress in Human Geology, gives a caricatural example of political correctness. In an article entitled “Glaciers, Gender, and Science: A Feminist Glaciology Framework for Global Environmental Change Research,” the academic authors argue against “stereotypical and masculinist practices of glaciology” linked to “imperial and hegemonic capitalist agendas.” “Ice is not just ice,” they claim. This research was supported by a grant from the US National Science Foundation.

Ordinary people have long been subjected to this sort of nonsense. The Wall Street Journal reports that, in the wake of Trump’s victory, University of Michigan students gathered in the office of the director of multi-ethnic student affairs: “They spent the day sprawled around the center, playing with Play-Doh and coloring in coloring books as they sought comfort and direction.” These are the children of the establishment and its intelligentsia.

Even the globalization defended by the establishment –- including the Financial Times, The Economist, and intergovernmental organizations –- is more akin to regulated trade than to free trade. Think about the labor and environmental standards that the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership was trying to impose. Thus, the establishment even provided the Trumps of America and other countries with a convenient scapegoat that is only a pale reflection of the benefits that real free trade would create for the “deplorables.”

There is a final irony. Part of the establishment now rightly fears the extraordinary powers that president Trump will possess. But you wanted a strong state, didn’t you? Well, you’ve got it now. It’s just not in your hands anymore. If you don’t realize this and recognize that Leviathan should be permanently constrained, go and cry elsewhere.