Railing against the establishment also ignores the mass resistance to ways of thinking that would have to undergird a truly democratic and egalitarian society. The hope that we can bring about fundamental change by exposing an immoral cabal and crushing its power fails to confront the deeply held belief in the essential fairness of capitalist society. The tenacity of this conviction helps explain why Americans keep electing politicians who promise a good job to anyone willing to work hard and blame the breaking of promises on a mere failure of political will. There’s a feedback loop between the political and economic institutions that sustain inequality and an ideology that forecloses alternatives like the social democracy that exists, albeit under stress, in much of Western and Central Europe.
Kazin could be more sweeping yet in his critique. While all four presidential candidates rail against the establishment, all arguably belong to it as wielders or wealth or power, yet each sees the others as the problem. This is no less true when people who have no apparent power rail against the establishment, when they also resist radical change. If they think that all that needs to happen is for "the establishment" to be brought down or replaced, without radical change on their own part, they contribute to that inertia that keeps an "establishment" in place -- that is, in effect, the establishment. There's more to this inertia than some faith in fairness; after all, "life's not fair" is practically an organizing principle for this inertial resistance to changes usually demanded for the sake of fairness. To make life more fair most likely requires a more "mobilized" citizenry than most of us want to be, because we no longer can imagine a middle ground between rugged individualism and the marching, chanting, uniformed hordes of the "totalitarian" nightmare. For too many of us, to move toward that middle ground is the first step down the slippery slope all the way to the other end. Ours is the political culture that results when we refuse to move. Despite all the protests about our powerlessness as ordinary citizens we remain a democratic republic, and if such a republic can't countenance radical change for the common good, whether out of complacency or fear of Big Brother, then the masses are the establishment as much as the millionaires are. That goes as well for all the "populists" who say someone else has to change and not us. And that raises a troubling question: to be truly "anti-establishment" in this country -- to be truly committed to radical change -- do you have to be anti-democracy as well?