The word “establishment” or “GOP establishment” is often used with the assumption that everyone knows what it means. Sometimes that’s not the case, and in a dinner conversation the other night a friend who I’ve always thought of as politically savvy hit me with, “What is the establishment?” The question was posed with a tone of skepticism that there is any such thing and I found myself a bit tongue tied trying to answer. I guess I’ve been as guilty as anyone in using the term rather loosely without thinking clearly.
Charles Krauthammer has been heard to say more than once that he doesn’t like the term “establishment.” Henry Kissinger has condemned the word as applied to the Republicans saying he prefers “maintstream” Republicans. Obviously the word “establishment” carries a negative connotation that makes its members and sympathizers nervous.
There is an establishment in Washington D.C. Ted Cruz calls it the “Washington cartel.” That’s a good word to use for it. We all know what a business cartel is. Most people think of a cartel as an association of business firms for the purpose of maintaining prices at a high level and restricting competition. The Middle East Oil cartel, the Mexican drug cartel, or the Columbian drug cartel. The word comes from the Latin carta, as in Magna Carta, meaning “great charter” of liberties. The English word “cartel” comes from the French without any change in the spelling. It was first used in Germany (Kartell) in the 19th Century to describe political coalitions among political factions or parties.
A cartel is everywhere and always used to further some nefarious, often illegal, goal. Referring to a cartel as an establishment gives it a somewhat more respectable front. While a cartel is always something carefully thought out and planned, an establishment may arise without any specific intention or planning on the part of its participants. It arises spontaneously because it serves the common interest of its members. Think of it as clique, i.e., a group of people with shared interests who hang out together and don’t allow others to join the group.
The common interest that defines the Washington D.C. establishment is the common thinking in both political parties that Washington is and rightly should be the gravitational center and focus of life in America. The common mindset is that everything good, true and beautiful in America comes from Washington. This “inside the beltway” mentality causes many politicians to consider Washington as their hometown more so than the residence they maintain solely for purposes of decorum in the state they represent.
These politicians are the very opposite of Harry Truman who never for a minute considered Washington his home. At the end of his presidency he couldn’t wait to return to his beloved Independence, Missouri. These politicians are the antithesis of Jefferson’s dream of a citizen legislative body in Congress. They are “the little group of elites in Washington” that Ronald Reagan warned us would always be trying to run our lives, mostly into the ground.
The GOP establishment is a subset of the Washington establishment. It is that wing of the Republican party that has refused to do anything substantive in the way of providing political opposition to Obama and the Democrats. They have dug their heels into maintaining the status quo in spite of promises to the contrary made to their voters at election time. They like their lives just the way they are because they find it comfortable and easy that way. Doing what the voters want them to do would involve lots of hard work and mental strain. The Democrats would play the race card on them. They want no part of that, and that’s why they oppose Donald Trump, it’s why the hate Ted Cruz. Both Cruz and Trump are wolves at the door that must be killed.
Sadly, William Buckley’s National Review magazine has recently been admitted as a new member of the GOP establishment. Remembering Buckley’s declaration that the purpose of conservatism is to stand athwart history yelling “Stop!”, I imagine he is turning over in his grave.
Election 2016 will be momentous. It will determine the direction of America for the remainder of the lives of most Americans now living. Will America remain the greatest force for liberty and justice for all, a glorious example to the rest of the world, or will it become just another decadent state on the model of the European Union? If the GOP establishment gets its way America’s future could be bleak indeed.
Hopefully, We The People are awakening to this reality.