The tale of this election is that those candidates who are running against the “Establishment” are doing very well. There is obviously something to this, but it obscures the actual workings of American politics. Just for starters, Hilary Clinton won Nevada on Saturday propelled by African-American and Latino voters. Those voters would be surprised to learn that they are part of the Establishment. And, of course, except for some of them, they are not.
What people mean by the Establishment refers variously to the Washington Establishment, the Business Establishment, and the Media Establishment or all three. What this “description” slides over is that none of these Establishments are monolithic. Is there anyone who thinks that Washington is monolithic? The Media? More interesting is the claim that Business is the establishment. On this theory, Donald Trump is a narcissistic member of the Establishment, and I believe he is precisely that. Bernie Sanders (and many others before him) argues that the system is rigged because of our broken system of campaign finance giving the wealthy and big business undue power in government. I wholeheartedly agree. On this undifferentiated analysis, however, the common good could never emerge from the political process unless the interests of business and the public were fully aligned.
In fact, the common good can more often emerge than that analysis allows because the interests of business insofar as most legislation is concerned are not homogeneous. For example, with respect to the environment, the Democrats can expect to get money from solar interests, but not from oil. The Democrats can expect to get money from those business interests who would have a lot to gain if we invested in the infrastructure of the country as we surely should. If the media were to responsibly report on American politics, they would report on what businesses give money to what candidates and parties and why it is in their interests to do so.
I do not think this reporting is a substitute for a system in which the wealthy and those in business have no disproportionate access to political power; but loose talk about the Establishment obscures attention to the actual workings of power in American political life.