It seems strange that this kind of banana republic cult of personality would find purchase in a republican system (republican with either a small “r” or a big one), but maybe that’s not such an impenetrable paradox. Stable systems of representative government are notoriously slow and resistant to radical change. You can elect a lot of new people to Congress, as insurgents on the right have done in recent years, but the old party leadership stubbornly clings to their positions, and if the last winner of a presidential election is opposed to your agenda, then congressional leaders can’t get much done even if they try. Changing the political system is patient work that takes decades, and most of it is done, not by electing the “right guy” in a single election, but by promoting the right ideas to your fellow citizens and actually convincing people, which is really annoying work.Well, yes, the Cult of the Presidency is a snare and a delusion, and yet Democrats have been riding it at least since Franklin Roosevelt and Happy Days Are Here Again, and through Camelot to the era of Hope and Change.
Perhaps Trump voters see in a presidential cult the easy way to change things that have not gone well. Abigail Hall of The Independent Institute argues that it requires something to beat something, even as the New Deal and Great Society and all the rest breaks down.
I’d say that our battleground is one of ideas, not politics. As I’ve written elsewhere, ideas matter. I would also suggest one of the most important things we can do is recognize and point out that it’s government that’s the problem. There are other ways for individuals to coordinate their behavior than relying on an inherently flawed political system. How else do we bring about change? If the rules of the game are the problem, how to do we change the rules? For that, I cannot claim to have an answer (if I did, I’d collect my Nobel prize and retire.)Via Michael Giberson at Knowledge Problem, who suggests there is value both in thinking about the structure, and about persuading voters.
Success in the world of ideas would, unavoidably, produce millions of liberty-supporters who can only defend their views badly. Not everyone persuaded of liberty will refine their beliefs by exploring Rothbard or Friedman (or Bastiat or Spooner or Wilder Lane). Success in the world of ideas will result in voters more likely to support politicians who say libertarian-ish things. Further success will result in voters more discerning in their support for politicians who say libertarian-ish things.Push 'em back on both fronts. That may be how insurgencies develop. (If that sounds like the thesis of Kurt Schlichter's Conservative Insurgency, yes.) It took the Perpetually Aggrieved years to destroy higher education and it will take years to reclaim it.
Hall is right to warn that institutions matter, and political institutions by their nature tend to disappoint. Some of the best work in political economy gives us good reason to think so. But part of what success in the world of ideas looks like is an uptake of the ideas among politicians and campaigns and voters. It is not clear that progress requires squelching these political outgrowths.
Should we make it politically profitable for policymakers to do the right thing, or should we make it less profitable for policymakers to do anything?
After the Vietnam War, a lot of us didn’t just crawl back into our literary cubicles; we stepped into academic positions. With the war over, our visibility was lost, and it seemed for a while—to the unobservant—that we had disappeared. Now we have tenure, and the work of reshaping the universities has begun in earnest.The Roger Kimball manifesto that follows from that summary of the Long March Through the Institutions dates to 2005, and the roll-back of the Perpetually Aggrieved in higher education has a long way to go. The old "vital progressive center" -- sclerotic or not, orange is the new pantsuit or not, is even more deeply entreched.
—Jay Parini, The Chronicle of Higher Education
Change one mind at a time.