The recent pledge by Senate Republicans to refuse to meet with or vote on any Supreme Court nomination by the President has made it clear that the anti-establishment hysteria of the far right has once again reared its ugly head.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen behavior like this from the GOP. From bothersome filibusters to all-out government shutdowns, it appears that the right has little to no intention of behaving like a first-world government, much less actually governing. Most clearly, we can observe the same phenomenon in the 2016 presidential race.
Anti-establishment candidates like Donald Trump, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz are funny in a way — not necessarily funny in the sense that somebody as incendiary and antagonizing as Ted Cruz would believe the nonsensical ideology he has adopted, but funny in the sense that large masses of American voters would have such a lack of civic engagement and political education as to actually believe it, too. Anti-establishment sentiment is not successful in actually shrinking the bureaucracy, paring down government spending or augmenting states’ rights — historically speaking, especially in recent politics, all it has done is impede legislative progress and provide meaningless and annoying obstructions to objectives that eventually pass nonetheless.
Let’s get something straight. As cute as your anti-establishment whining tends to be — or not be, if you’re Donald Trump at another racist rally — the government is an establishment. America is an advanced, modern and affluent nation-state, not the Wild West backdrop in 3:10 to Yuma. We do have a government. It is an establishment. If you can’t reconcile yourself to the existence of a governing body, try life in Ghana — you might find it more suitable to your libertarian needs.
Total anti-establishment — paranoid hysteria aside — if shrinking or changing the establishment is really the main goal, the presidential election isn’t a great place to start. After local elections, state elections and finally congressional midterms, you can’t wait until the presidential election rolls around to decide you’re no longer satisfied with the “establishment.” To employ a metaphor even a backwater libertarian might understand, deciding to use the presidential election to combat establishment politics is a little like going to ice a cake and suddenly deciding you wish the cake was a different flavor. It’s a little late.
Historically, we can observe that meaningful change in democracies very rarely comes from the top down — and when it does, like FDR’s programs, it is in response to broad and intense popular pressure. It’s bottom-up progress that serves to be the most effective, both in longevity and lasting impact. Electing Donald Trump or Rand Paul will not alter the system. The president is the last piece in a puzzle of thousands. Painting that piece a different color won’t change the picture you’ve made.
Anti-establishment sentiment stems from both a lack of education as well as an overvaluation of the powers of the president. When a sector of the electorate is not only dissatisfied, but also vastly uninformed on the nature of government, anti-establishment sentiment starts to grow.
Dissatisfied voters should instead turn to congressional midterms. The only body with meaningful power to change the nature of the government establishment, at least on a national level, is Congress. If it’s new or different legislation a voter is looking for, he or she might want to try paying attention to the elections of the legislative body. Unfortunately, turnout for midterms has been historically low — it appears that the American electorate is less interested in who actually sits in a position to enact meaningful law than who sits in the Oval Office. It’s because, generally, campaign budgets for midterm elections are lower than those of the presidential campaigns, and a resulting lack of media attention on the midterms will consistently affect turnout. Improving awareness of midterm elections might help direct these sentiments toward a more appropriate place to create real change.
Either way, the pervasiveness of anti-establishment views generally does nothing but impede congressional progress and serve as a roadblock for meaningful legislation; if it’s smaller establishment you’re after, look at your midterms. But if your general dissatisfaction with the government and your “leave-me-alone” frontiersman bend make you think you might actually entertain the idea of a months-long vacant judicial appointment or detrimental government shutdown, please stay out of politics.
Lily Vaughan is a freshman majoring in history and political science. Her column, “Playing Politics,” runs Fridays.