Things That We Don’t See vs. Things That We Do.

Corey Robin has an interesting perspective (I have no ideas where this is from besides his Twitter stream) on the goings on in today’s politics.

If you have been following my posts, you’d have noticed that I am fully in agreement with his broad view that something huge is going on in politics today, not just the Democrats or even United States.  The argument that I’d been offering is that the mutually contradictory twin roles of institutions, as both a tool that can help the agenda setters advance their interests at the expense of those outside the privileged circle, and as the positive-sum focal point that guides those outside to rally to the coalition around the institution-keepers for all their mutual and collective benefit, has reached a crisis point where the masses (of different strains) no longer trust the institutions or its keepers–where the underappreciated price of agenda-setting has gotten so big for those who are being agenda-set that they are willing to force the agenda setters to pay  a big price.  Both Trump and Sanders, Brexit and other assorted anti-system politics, are symptoms of this crisis in confidence.  Where there is no confidence in the very words of the agenda setters, the questions about how the agenda should be, in which direction–i.e. the ideology/policy questions–no longer even make sense.  This leaves, as Robin astutely points out, the conventional observers of politics confused.

The problem, however, is twofold.  First, the status quo is, whether we like it or not, powerful.  It will do what it can do protect its present interests.  Yes, Sanders and Trump represent powerful and very unhappy coalitions on the left and right, respectively.  Yet, they are not the changes that the incumbents elites want.  The insiders will bring everything they have to stop them, even at the cost of losing elections–as the Republicans are eager to be doing– and the chances that the rebels will fail are very considerable.  Second, even if we are able to spot the changes by observing subtle clues under the surface, the evidence that we can marshal, by necessity, will be limited and circumstantial, hardly a “slam dunk” for those who are not wiling to believe.  The “Vox Generation,” as Robin contemptuously calls today’s “public intellectuals,” are true believers in the conventional wisdom without subtlety or depth of analysis.  They trust academic theories that spout conventional wisdom as much as their forebears trusted the political insiders to explain what is “really” going on in politics, and these folks control the outlets through which new ideas can reach a wide audience.  Maybe the insurgents will win. Maybe we who are unseen by anyone will have seen them coming (I do not believe that this is all that likely–although more likely than the conventional wisdom might believe.)  But since nobody saw our predictions, “nobody saw them coming,” cry will the Vox of tomorrow (which could be the Vox).

I think there is a potential for something big building in many places around the world. I do not see the probability of these pressures adding up to something big, in the end, to be very high.  The spectre is worth paying attention to, but it is dangerous to make too much of it.  It’s like a 9th inning walk-off home run:  it’s common enough that one should not be surprised to see them, especially with some hitter-pitcher-ballpark combinations.  But no one should count on them.


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