The Establishment Isn’t The Problem

Too many voters are too ignorant in too many ways

I know it’s a broad generalization, but many millennials are proof that not knowing history creates the illusion of new and different. All the excitement that they exhibit at supporting an “outsider” while spurning the far more experienced “insider” is misguided and doomed to failure. They don’t know this, of course, because they 1) lack life experience and 2) mistake the establishment as the problem rather than those who do or don’t vote…and for whom. Governance can’t actually function outside of the establishment — the system.

Back in the 1960s, when hippies and flower power were in vogue, disdain for the system was deemed essential for making things in life that really mattered the priorities of society. The phrase was tune in and drop out. When it became obvious this was not actually going to accomplish much, the replacement goal was to infiltrate the system and change it from within. This actually made far more sense because while love, peace and understanding are admirable, they can’t replace governance, structure and process. Implementation of change doesn’t occur in a vacuum.

The difference is seen in the two current candidates for the Democratic party. One is well left of center and wants to remake much of what is in place now at considerable financial cost, whereas the other remains a pragmatic centrist who prefers getting things done incrementally if necessary when too many stakeholders are put off by large scale, rapid change. Despite a number of achievements by the current president, much of what he wanted to accomplish was blocked by both the opposition and some in his own party who thought the goals were too ambitious or too much change.

What we have seen in recent decades is that when mainstream voters are ready for changes, they will support them, but they have to be comfortable with the process and grow to accept that which was not previously widely regarded as reasonable and positive. I’ve written before about how cultural progress can be slow at first, gaining momentum and greater support. Some of this can be attributed to social norming, a topic I dealt with in a post I wrote three years ago this month. The basic premise is that people’s attitudes, behaviors and opinions are influenced by what they know or believe they know about the attitudes, behaviors and opinions of others.

So when millennials are sure that everyone they know supports a non-establishment candidate, they are simultaneously correct and yet not aware that a majority of the electorate — older and wiser, do not see a political “revolution” as likely, sustainable or effective. Better to support a candidate who is experienced, brings dignity to the office and knows well how the system works and thus how to be most effective within it. And having lived long enough to understand what really matters, many voters recognize that experience is an extremely valuable asset in business, government or other endeavors.

There is a particular quality that is very establishment and very effective for a president: being presidential. Leadership is more than a title. It’s not about being loud, dramatic and boastful. It has the look and feel of competence, wisdom and reason. Steady, reliable and thoughtful are qualities that make a president effective, respected and able to demonstrate calm in the face of disruption. Too many voters simply ignore or underestimate how valuable these qualities are.

In governance there are no simple problems and simple solutions. There are always trade-offs, compromises and imperfections. Anyone who insists otherwise should not be trusted with the responsibilities of the presidency. Expecting accountability and transparency is prudent and reasonable, not trusting government on principle is foolish and shortsighted. The size and cost of government is linked to what modern societies decide are the priorities for the greater good. For example, successful economies invest considerably in infrastructure because it is the basis for sustainable economic growth.

Yes, these are all predictably pragmatic assumptions, but that’s my world view. I know that the job of being president, and doing it well, is far more complex, challenging and difficult than most voters comprehend. Historians know that the quality of a president is most accurately revealed 50+ years later, when perspective and consequences reveal the long-term results. The number of truly excellent presidents is modest. Many did little to nothing of significance.

Experience, intelligence and openness to ideas are the most important assets in successful leaders. Voters should be wise enough to recognize this, but too many are too ignorant in too many ways. It’s not the establishment that’s the problem…it’s voters.