by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
President Trump looked out over the Mall last week and declared: “For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. . . . The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country.”
TV pundits thought the speech unprecedented in its divisiveness, yet it was nothing new under the sun. Students of Anglo-American history are familiar with the recurring antagonism between the “court” (the establishments of the metropolis) and the “country” (all those who feel left out of those comfortable and lucrative arrangements).
When, in 18th-century England, an intimacy grew up between the government at Westminster and the financiers of the City of London, a party of self-styled “country” patriots arose to denounce the new “monied interest,” one that in their view was growing parasitically rich by repackaging the national debt and fobbing it off on the naïve. To add insult to injury, the new elite was entrenching its power through public-sector patronage.
The result, the historian J. H. Plumb opined, was the growth of a court oligarchy in Britain. Its interlocking establishments were viewed with special trepidation by Britishers across the ocean in America, who wildly imagined that the luxuriant self-dealing of London foretokened an age of slavery, in which virtuous yeomen would be subjugated by a decadent metropolitan elite. The colonists’ fear that the corruption of the court was “sapping the foundations” of liberty, the historian Bernard Bailyn wrote, was an underlying cause of that aboriginal Brexit, the Revolution of 1776.