"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Trump and Sanders: Entitlement populists



In the early 1930s, American politics was in the thrall of a populist. Huey Long, a US Senator from Louisiana was preaching a successful socialist message to America. During the Great Depression his call to “Share the Wealth” and “Every Man a King” resonated with the public. He offered a social welfare system for a public facing brutal fate of unemployment, sickness, and hunger. 


Long never achieved his vision, though, he was assassinated in 1938. His ideas lived on as Franklin Roosevelt borrowed them for his own. Lyndon Johnson continued that trend as the Great Society programs used government social welfare to addressed historical inequalities. The cost, though, was to make the people depend on the government for help. The federal government, it appeared, would replace self-government.


What are Trump and Sanders offering?
Trump and Sanders are in their own way populists,[1] America is different. It is wealthier, healthier, better educated and more deeply involved in the world. Their populism appeals to something created by Long, a social welfare culture of entitlement. They preach entitlement populism to a public who want what they believe they are entitled to have. 



They are not campaigning on clean water, Flint, or better education, Chicago’s failed public school system, but on the resentment born from the belief that the entitlements reserved to the few are to be enjoyed by the many. 

However, this sense of entitlement is not found in the working class, the people being nickel and dimed to death by the globalization. Instead, the sense of entitlement is greatest among the elite.
The Harvard Grade vs the Mansfield grade.
The entitlement resentment seeping out from America’s elites trickling into the public is what Trump and Sanders have preached. We have defined entitlement downward. Consider the average grade at Harvard University is now an A. Every student is not only above average they are superior. No one ever fails a course. Moreover, it is not so much that the students are smarter, work harder, or have better resources, it is that they lobby, cajole, if not coerce professors for their grades. The students are not the main lobbyists, it is their parents who place this pressure on professors and the institution. Consider the case of Harvey Mansfield, who one would expect as a staunch defender of virtue. 

Instead of standing up to this system and grading his students as they deserve, Mansfield provides two grades. The first is the Harvard grade, an A, he gives to students so they are not disadvantaged relative to the other students. The second is the Mansfield grade. This is the grade they deserved. Aside from the honesty, which is laudable, one has to ask where is the courage of such behavior or the public defense of virtue? If a man as powerful and experienced as Harvey Mansfield cannot stop this entitlement, who will? The elite institutions no longer defend the academic standards for they know they are in a business. The American university, that produces the elites, no longer shapes their character to virtue or service. Instead, they shape their students to a life of entitlement.
Trump and Sanders make entitlement populism available to everyone.
We can see that Trump and Sanders appeal in such a system. They offer an answer to the public. Who will pay for this unfairness? Someone else, preferably foreigners. Trump and Sanders offer the “truth” to the American public. They will “tell it like it is.” Yet, they only preach entitlement. They succeed in this because they know that the establishment candidates cannot offer anything new. The establishment candidates cannot even appeal to populism for they are part of the entitlement establishment. They are part of the problem, just a different version of the same issue. They cannot reform the entitlement system for that is why they exist. They have succeeded to the extent that they have captured, exploited, and profited from it. Trump and Sanders do not require the voter to demonstrate self-governance, one is only required to show entitlement.
Can any candidate reassert America’s belief in self-government?
We yearn for a candidate who can help the public understand that responsibility, service, and duty can renew America. We need a president who will reassert the proper relationship between we the people and the government. In the choice between self-government or entitlement, what will you choose? What have you chosen?

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