Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Losing the mandate of heaven, American style.

China has the best book on continuous history--strong culture for thirty centuries, dominant world power for over two millennia. Dynasties lose power, or the “Mandate of Heaven,” when they can no longer provide order throughout the land, and the people rebel. It’s then time for a new elite that can keep the culture going.

Mandate loss last happened in America in 1968 with the failed presidency of Lyndon Johnson. The meritocracy that eventually gained White House power -- George H.W. Bush (Yale, 12 years, 4 as president, 8 as veep) with James Baker (Princeton), then Bill Clinton (Georgetown, Yale Law, president 8 years), George W. Bush (Yale, Harvard Business, 8 years), and Barack Obama (Columbia, Harvard Law, 8 years) -- began well enough but is now losing its grip.

One can see today’s loss in the pained writing of conservative, Wall Street Journal Pulitzer-prize winner Daniel Henninger. Progressives control the academic-based, diversity-preaching elite that runs the country, but their junior conservative colleagues enjoy sharing power. Or at least did.

Henninger has now given up, in fact seeing barbarians at the gate:
With no party spokesman for conservatism, an ideological vacuum existed. Freelance operators filled it. They included two hyper-ambitious Senate freshman, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. They also included a movement to purge and cleanse conservatism, led by groups such as Heritage Action and by talk radio hosts. Together they conjured an internal enemy — the Republican Establishment. . . The Trumpians and Cruzians, who of late have been knifing one another in a blind rage, say this is a rebirth. So was Rosemary’s baby.
Henninger trips mishandling a reference to the past, saying the mainstream media the barbarians so greatly hate "is essentially a Roman phalanx. It stays in formation and protects the progressive castle. The conservative alternatives showed no such discipline.”

Roman Phalanx
Well, castle defense was Medieval not Roman, phalanxes were mostly offensive not defensive, and while Romans did use them, they gained an empire by employing flexible infantrymen who out-maneuvered first Macedonian, then Carthaginian, phalanxes. Henninger’s faux pas unintentionally symbolizes meritocratic slippage.

Walter Russell Mead, writing in the American Interest, more directly maintains it’s the meritocratic elite that from both sides is hurting America. Says Mead:
One could read the New York Times for decades without hearing warnings about how one-party Democratic rule has entrenched patterns of corruption and sloth in major American cities. It’s much more fun to wring our hands about the problems of the poor, and blame everything untoward on Republican racist tightwads.
[But j]ust because deep blue Democrats prefer sentiment over analysis and let their allegiance to vested interests trump their concern for the poor is no excuse for Republicans [who] say “hold the line on taxes and starve the beast”
years of terrible decisions and the absence of serious planning at both state and local levels [mean] the chief victims of this neglect of duty are poor people—those who depend most on government for services.
[that] there is so little creative thinking about these issues is the fault of think tanks, public intellectuals and academics. It is the cognitive elite that has let the country down.
“It is the cognitive elite that has let the country down.”

Yes. However long it manages to hang on, our current meritocracy is losing its mandate, as measured by sustained popular dissatisfaction.

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