The Trump phenomenon is a new reality. It brings up flaws in the party system we have never encountered – the desperation of voters who think the system is broken, who abandon faith in the system and basic principles of a free-market or constitutional republic.
This is the culmination of blatant political corruption and an irresponsible media – both the old and the new. The right-wing media outlets who keep blaming elected Republicans as betrayers and backstabbers paved the way for Donald Trump. The perfect once again has become the enemy of the good.
Social networks and broad-based internet media systems have neutered the old institutions. As much as we may justifiably criticize these institutions, it renders the process uncontrollable.
Inundated with information to indulge our convictions, we remain starved for knowledge and understanding. We have substituted safe places for education. We now have a generation of students who have taken on substantial debt to get meaningless degrees with no understanding of how our nation or the rational world works. Then we have burdened the economy with so many friction costs that their job prospects offer little hope. An educated (credentialed) self-absorbed youth with poor job opportunities is a toxic blend.
We are witnessing the third and final phase of American Progressivism, where the administrative state has stifled the economy, destroyed opportunities, and lost control of the process.
The first phase of Progressivism was from Teddy Roosevelt to Woodrow Wilson. The election of Warren Harding and the "return to normalcy" brought a decade of growth until the neo-Progressive Herbert Hoover took us to the next phase from FDR through Carter. This second phase lasted as long as it did because of the benefits central planning brought to the war effort. Without WWII, FDR may have entered history as the disaster who directed a ten-year depression caused by incessant government meddling.
The Reagan years ended the second phase, and growth returned. The second Bush brought the third phase, and with his successor came the pinnacle Progressive achievement of Obamacare.
We are at a pivotal point where the next president will push the progressive state farther until it collapses or reverse it, as we saw with the Warren Harding/Calvin Coolidge terms and the Ronald Reagan revolution.
What is unique about this phase is the loss of control. We have a leading Republican with no experience in government and no philosophical commitment to any principles of government or economics. He is the essence of the charismatic leader the founders feared.
We have a leading Democratic candidate with a long and deep trail of the most flawed ethics ever noted in a candidate. She defines herself as the Progressive Democrat heir to the failed progressive policies of the last century.
We have had populist candidates before, but not from both parties at the same time.
Both contend to be pragmatic, uninterested in theory, interested only in what works. In this sense, both of them are like the early Progressives who embraced Pragmatism (capital P) as an ideology while demeaning all other ideologies as too ideological.
But formalized pragmatism has a dark side. When it cuts all ties with rationally and morally formed principles, it depends on demagogues and populists. Populists think problems created by the educated can be solved by the ignorant. Populists need demons so they can pose as saviors. Populists blame the principles that were ignored or unfulfilled and cheer those who just abandon principles altogether.
In a campaign of terrible ideas or no ideas, merely bad ideas appear acceptable.