A few years back, leftists began calling the richest and most powerful among us the “One Percent,” to distinguish these arrogant neo-aristocrats from the downtrodden multitude, i.e everyone else. It didn’t take long, however, for many of the most privileged “progressives” to realize that they were the “One Percent,” if indeed that term has any objective meaning. The terminology was quickly abandoned, therefore. Now liberals congratulate one another on being “woke” instead – a distinction that the well-heeled and well-connected can earn just as easily, if not more easily (thanks to the infinite avenues for virtue-signaling that wealth and power afford), than the huddled masses. Crisis averted!
However one chooses to define “the establishment” and the elite that towers over it, however, it is becoming more and more apparent that the ruling class has arrived at a crossroads. It has, since the outset of the pandemic, and especially since the enthronement of Joseph R. Biden as King-Emperor of Wokery, flexed its muscles and reveled in its mastery as never before. On the other hand, as the saying goes, “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” The establishment has seldom been more nervous and defensive – even downright scared of the hoi polloi that writhe beneath it – and for good reason.
Why would we say these are “the best of times” for the left-leaning establishment? Because, for one thing, it successfully defeated its nemesis, Donald Trump, in 2020 and reasserted its monopoly on governance at the federal level. It accomplished this feat by the flagrant coordination of almost every lever of institutional and cultural power available to it: it formed what Time magazine termed a “well-funded cabal of powerful people, ranging across industries and ideologies, working together behind the scenes to influence perceptions, change rules and laws, steer media coverage and control the flow of information.” All this was done to ensure a “legitimate” outcome to the 2020 election – and the establishment was never in any doubt about the result such a contest would produce. Trump would lose.
Such institutional and cultural collusion would have been inconceivable were it not the case that, increasingly, the establishment viewpoint dominates every major institution and nexus of power there is in American society – which, of course, on one level, is no surprise at all. That’s why it’s called “the establishment,” after all. What is rather shocking is the ease with which non-establishment voices are being silenced and deliberately excluded from the media, social media, our education system, Hollywood and beyond. These are sectors that used to be open to a degree of pluralism. No more. Add to all that the fact that government has grown by leaps and bounds (it now consumes roughly 45% of GDP), and the authority of government over even the most private aspects of our lives has, thanks to the pandemic, grown too, and you’d be hard-pressed to think of a time in our history when the powers-that-be were more, well, powerful. Bully for them!
On the other hand, there is the sobering result of a recent Gallup poll on Americans’ confidence in the major institutions that dominate our politics, culture and economy.
This poll illustrates the abject failure of the elite in building trust in, and legitimacy for, the very foundations of its power. From Congress, to the courts, to the presidency; from Hollywood, to higher ed, to social media; from corporations, to cable news, to the banking system – all these props of the established order enjoy less legitimacy and less confidence from the American people now than almost ever before. Yes, the establishment still tells us what to do and what to think, but the truth is that a very substantial fraction of the American people (based on the last election, you’d have to say … 47%?) simply aren’t obeying or even listening anymore. And even Democrats, who loathe all the people the elite tells them to loathe, and who trip over one another to be, or at least to sound, politically correct, don’t repose great confidence in their “betters.” Just 25% and 35% of Democrats express confidence in “television news” and “newspapers,” respectively, for instance. No wonder, then, that progressives are wringing their hands about past and future “insurrections” and about the imminent collapse of “democracy.” To them, these words signify nothing more than the retention, or forfeiture, of their grip on power, which means also their grip on public opinion, which has never been shakier than it is today.
And in that strange incongruity – the seeming omnipotence of the modern establishment versus its paper-thin legitimacy – we can perceive the outlines of our collective fate (or can we?). One is reminded of the totalitarian sway of the communist regimes of the Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc satellites, which seemed utterly unassailable, until one day it and they melted away before our eyes.
One should not underestimate the immense resources the establishment can bring to bear to buttress its power and moral suasion, nor its determination to do so. Nonetheless, if I were a pillar of the establishment, I’d be pretty nervous right now!
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