Revolt Against Elites

The assertion of individual rights doesn’t have a particularly lengthy record in a history mainly filled with monarchs, dictators, oligarchs, and other elites. The age of gilded kings, queens, emperors and empresses isn’t as dead as it seems; only the names and excuses to stay in power keep changing. Russia lost its czar, but gained Communist Party rulers who held even greater control. Similar non-substantive changes have occurred in many locales.

Indeed, in Russia, the transition happened again.  When the Communist regime collapsed, essentially the same group rather quickly reclaimed power.  Putin, an old KGB hand, has, after only an unfortunately brief period, restored the same absolute power to his leadership that czars and commissars once held.

For centuries, Europe’s intermarried royal families controlled the lives of the continent’s residents.  That began to diminish as nationalism, often maligned but in reality a necessary step in European democratization, took hold. But as socialism gained acceptance, the concept of an elite class of intellectuals and politicians took hold.

The European Union deepened that trend. When the citizens of the United Kingdom voted to leave the E.U., the continental elites, who, in their own way, are as interconnected as the old monarchial families, were shocked.  In Britain itself, there was significant discussion among them about whether a re-vote or other scheme to overturn the ballot could be successful.

In the United States, the election of Donald Trump has caused similar conversations among power brokers and political party chiefs.  Whatever one’s thoughts of the new President, he is certainly outside of the typical leadership groups.  In the aftermath of his upset win, the traditional governing interests have reacted with near hysteria.  Even before he took the oath of office, the mainstream left-wing opinion makers in academia, the media, Hollywood, and progressive activists called for his impeachment.

Of course, there were a whole host of issues that compelled voters in the U.K. to reject the E.U. and Americans to reject the “establishment” candidacy of Hillary Clinton. But the extraordinary similarity is that, in both cases, the traditional power brokers were successfully challenged.

Writing for the BBC,  Mark Mardell discusses the twin jolts of Brexit and Trump : “It is perhaps ironic that our two countries, with a reputation for stable political systems, have delivered political revolutions of such importance. Or perhaps it’s not. Perhaps their stability and strength is they can cope with popular revolts, without pitchforks or getting blood all over our sans culottes.”

As the leading supporters of individual freedom, British and American citizens have rejected surrendering their personal freedoms.

Tibor Machan, writing in the Daily Bell notes: “We are asked to believe that some people are inherently different from the rest of us. We are told that the select group − the leaders of socialist/egalitarian governments via their schemes of distribution and equalization − is immune from the errors of the rest of us. That the likes of Ralph Nader, Chuck Schumer, Joe Biden, et al., are really inherently better and wiser folk than are we all is what the citizenry is supposed to accept!”

Marilyn MacGruder Barnewall puts it this way in News With Views: “Communism, socialism, tribalism, and oligarchies all have one thing in common: Someone else is responsible for your life. From paying for your education, determining what kind of information will be contained in that education/indoctrination, to your career choices, the fuel your car will use (or whether you will be allowed to have a car…) all…are decisions about you to be made by others.”

Britain and America have been bulwarks in the lonely struggle to insure individual rights.  Attempts to overturn that achievement have been recently thwarted by the surprising victories of Brexit and Donald Trump. The particular merits of Brexit and Trump aren’t the point.  The battle lines in both instances clearly pitted elites eager to assert greater control against individuals, who rebelled at the attempt.

Writing in the British current affairs journal Spiked Brendon O’Neill  states: “…what a great starting point we have. If we can ditch something as huge as the EU, what else can we do to the end of enlivening the democratic sphere? This is what is so exciting about this referendum result. Ignore all the politicos and observers saying ‘Britain is broken. We no longer recognise this country’ (now they know how the people who voted against the EU have felt for years). For this huge jolt in global politics, this brilliant people’s quake, this vote against the political and media and business classes, provides us with an opportunity to rethink public life. It opens up the political landscape. It allows us to wonder, and discuss, how that landscape might be reshaped…”

During the eight years of the Obama Administration, Americans experienced a sharp deterioration in the fortunes of the middle class at home, and in the national security of their nation abroad.  Race relations took a turn for the worse.  Average citizens expressed their displeasure in the establishment elites by voting for Trump.