The unlikely 2016 election of Donald Trump—the first president without either prior political or military office—was a repudiation of the American “aristocracy.” By “rule of the best” I mean the ancien régime was no longer understood to suggest wealth and birth (alone), but instead envisioned itself as a supposed national meritocracy of those with proper degrees, and long service in the top hierarchies of government, media, blue-chip law firms, Wall Street, high tech, and academia.
The 2016 election and refutation of the ruling class did not signal that those without such educations and qualifications were de facto better suited to direct the country. Instead, the lesson was that the past record of governance and the current stature of our assumed best and brightest certainly did not justify their reputations or authority, much less their outsized self-regard. In short, instead of being a meritocracy, they amount to a mediocracy, neither great nor awful, but mostly mediocre.
This mediocracy is akin to late 4th-century B.C. Athenian politicians, the last generation of the Roman Republic, the late 18th-century French aristocracy, or the British bipartisan elite of the mid-1930s—their reputations relying on the greater wisdom and accomplishment of an earlier generation, while they remain convinced that their own credentials and titles are synonymous with achievement, and clueless about radical political, economic, military, and social upheavals right under their noses.
Remember the “new normal”? Our economic czars had simply decided anemic economic growth was the best Americans could expect and that 3 percent annualized GDP growth was out of the realm of possibility. Big government incompetence combined with Wall Street buccaneerism had almost melted down the economy in 2008. Recent presidents had doubled the debt—twice.