Back when I was a pollster, I would explain that following the daily polls was like watching a heavy rain fall on the surface of a river. There’s a lot of action and noise and splashing around but nothing that gives you a real sense of where the river is going. For that, you must look beneath the surface where the current keeps moving steadily onward and the storm is barely noticed.
The same logic applies to the state of American politics today. It’s easy to get caught up in the sound and fury of the daily news cycle, but that tells us more about our dysfunctional political system than it does about the future of our nation. When you look a little deeper and explore the currents of American society, you quickly discover that most people are moving steadily onward with their daily lives and barely notice the political storms.
Sure, most have an opinion about Donald Trump or Barack Obama or the latest political obsession, but it’s not the driving force in their lives. Instead, they are focused on family, jobs, faith, community and doing what they can to make their world a little bit better. To the degree most think about politics at all, the vast majority start with a belief that they have the freedom to live their own life on their own terms and that everybody else has the equal right to do the same. When politics is needed at all, most Americans believe in the self-governing ideal that the people are supposed to be in charge.
These are America’s founding values and they are deeply embedded in American society and culture. It’s true, of course, that our nation has never perfectly lived up to these ideals. But the deep currents of American society have been consistently flowing in the direction of freedom, equality, and self-governance since before the nation was even founded.
And, from the very beginning, there have been political elites who rejected those ideals. At the Constitutional Convention, Connecticut delegate Roger Sherman thought the people should have “as little to do as may be about the government.” Alexander Hamilton proposed that the United States should have an elected monarch who would rule until death or impeachment and have extensive powers. Fortunately, that idea didn’t sit too well with other delegates who had just finished a war against a king with too much power.
In the early days of our nation, the biggest challenges came from slave-holders who were so outraged byour national commitment to equality that they fought a Civil War to try and leave the nation. Today, the great challenge comes from a political elite who believe that they are smarter and more fit to govern than everyday Americans.
Rather than freedom, they believe in a Regulatory State where bureaucrats write the rules for the rest of us to live by. Rather than equality, they want government officials to pick winners and losers. And, rather than self-governance, they dream of a world where bureaucrats are protected from the desires of voters.
In other words, the political elites are actively trying to divert the currents of American society away from our founding ideals. Our challenge is to make sure the river keeps flowing and wears away whatever obstacles they put in place.