Questioning authority, especially our political leadership, is part of America's ethos, according to Bruce Haynes.
“From the Boston Tea Party and Whiskey Rebellion, to Black Lives Matter and the March for Life, the history of America is replete with movements protesting the policies of our governments,” says the founding partner of Purple Strategies, a bipartisan political consulting firm in Washington.
You can argue that seeing Americans frustrated or even angry with government is not just a cultural norm; it is healthy in a vibrant democracy.
“After all, it's only when people give up on being heard ... that the danger of violence exists,” said Haynes.
Being mad signals that our system is working in a responsive way, and elections are a means to express that frustration.
Populist anger on both sides of the aisle, Haynes explained, is a polarization that is primarily cultural and economic, clashing with a political system that seems ill-equipped to bridge the gap.
“On the right there are a group of people — less educated, lower-income secular voters — who feel socially displaced by the speed and force of economic and cultural globalization,” he said. They are juxtaposed with those on the left who do not believe economic and cultural changes are happening fast enough.
Both groups feel betrayed by mainstream political leaders, either for not opposing change or for not driving change hard and fast enough. And the “tyranny” they are revolting against has two potential sources — corrupt leaders or a corrupt citizenry.
The former abuses power. The latter turns licentious and disorderly.
Tyrants often step in to quell disorder — or, as James Madison famously put it, “Liberty may be endangered by the abuses of liberty, as well as by the abuses of power.”
In this election cycle, we've pretty much put the cart before the horse. We mock the folks flocking to Donald Trump, because we never acknowledged their frustrations.
The political class only seemed to notice people's frustration this summer as both Trump and Bernie Sanders, an avowed socialist, began running circles around the establishment candidates.
Well, I've been reporting that frustration from locales across the country since 2005. (Yes, people have been building to this moment for 10 years.) A cursory look at the “wave” midterm election cycles from 2006 through 2014, the “change” presidential election of 2008, and the total realignment of state legislative majorities, provides sufficient evidence of America's frustration with government.
This country's political alignment is missing one thing, and it's a big thing — a party that represents the moderately traditionalist values of the country's majority.
America doesn't need two secular, cosmopolitan parties.
Trump's secret is that he has found an unoccupied space to practice politics. Call it the politically incorrect, moderately traditionalist, main-street economics zone, where winners and losers exist (just as in the real world) and it is not a crime to believe unabashedly in American greatness.
Trump has stoked xenophobic fears and used his crass showmanship to mark out this territory. His tactics of strong demagoguery make it completely understandable to lament his success.
Yet, in order for our political system to work, people must feel as if they have real choices that can make a difference — and they haven't felt that way for some time.
This election cycle began with Americans being told that Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton were the inevitable choices. Many people just snapped.
Haynes argues that this is why people looked outside the political system to independent-minded candidates like Trump and Sanders. “If that fails, they will seek to change the system,” he said.
What we don't need are two parties or candidates perceived to be standard-bearers of the secular elites who are economically comfortable.
What we do need is someone who represents a middle-class that holds traditional values and believes all things are achievable, especially if government doesn't drag us down.
That kind of disruption in our political alignment doesn't happen overnight.
Remember, it took the Republican Party 36 years — starting with the 1820 Missouri compromise, followed by several disruptive movements and fractured elements — before it pulled together as a united party, agreed on a unifying platform and elected Abraham Lincoln as president.
Salena Zito is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorial page columnist. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org