Most of us see our divided nation as Republicans vs. Democrats or liberals vs. conservatives or perhaps as progressives vs. libertarians. Each of these is a valid conflict. However, each is merely a surface symptom, not the root cause to be addressed.
At the same time, we see outsider candidates opposing “establishment” office holders. We see Brexit – the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union – not to mention the Catalonians' effort to separate from Spain. And then there are the Harvey Weinsteins of the world.
Thorough root cause analysis tells us these actions are caused by something entirely different. Surprisingly, they include those of us on the political right, left, or center.
The correct answer is they are caused by the perpetual conflict of elites vs. populists.
These two perspectives tell us why Donald Trump is president. They tell us why current political parties have major internal conflicts – and low performance ratings. They tell us why the UK and Catalonia are withdrawing. They even tell us why the Weinsteins of the world exert their power over others.
So, what’s an elitist? What’s a populist? There are multiple definitions of each.
My favorite source is Victor Davis Hanson. He currently is a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.
According to Hanson, “Since ancient times, elites have been defined various ways -- sometimes by birth, by capital, by perceived class, by acknowledged influence, by high culture – and sometimes by a combination of all of the above.
“Today, people are especially mad at political elites, a loose term for those who govern at the state and federal level.
“An elite is also defined by education (preferably Ivy League and its coastal counterparts), residence (primarily between Boston and Washington on the East Coast and from San Diego to Berkeley on the Pacific), profession (executive positions in government, media, law, television, Hollywood, network news, finance, etc.) and ideology, such as those prominent in the progressive movement.”
Who then are the populists? The rest of us, of course.
Hanson states four problems that make the public angry and change election outcomes. I’m paraphrasing.
Elites seem to be out of touch and incompetent. Example: Their sterling degrees and titles, voters increasingly think, do not reflect the quality of their minds or the depth of their educations. They have become status markers separating “them” from everyone else.
Elites are sanctimonious and hypocrites. Example: Those who condemn walls and fences as backward and inhumane – then ensure their own residences are well fenced and protected from hoi polloi.
Voters are tired of the condescension of the elites. Example: Elites’ disdain focuses especially on the middle classes, who lack both the vulnerability of the truly impoverished and, supposedly, the culture and tastes of the higher classes.
Elites do not follow the laws. Example: Sanctuary cities nullify federal immigration law. The Clintons are the epitome of the rules not applying to ruling class members.
Other examples are in front of us daily. Trump’s election is the most prominent. Records show he drew votes from populist Democrats who otherwise never would have voted Republican.
Hanson explains it well:
“There is an unfocused but growing anger in the country -- and it should come as no surprise. Nobody likes to be lectured by those claiming superior wisdom but often lacking common sense about everything from out-of-control spending and predicting the weather to dealing with enemies who are trying to kill us all.
“What got the brash Trump elected was a similar popular outrage that the self-described best and brightest of our time are has-beens, having enjoyed influence without real merit or visible achievement.
“If Donald Trump did not exist, something like him would have had to be invented.”
I rest my case.
John Pryor is a Baskersfield risk management consultant and author of “Quality Risk Management Fieldbook” published by the International Risk Management Institute.