One of the more head-scratching phenomena of this election is the independent voters in open primary states who tell journalists and pollsters that they are undecided between Trump and Sanders. To the conventional political mind this makes no sense. It suggests that a Trump-Sanders election this fall might be highly volatile and unpredictable.
The common attraction of these disparate men is chalked up to their “Jacksonian” appeal, that is, the fact that they represent the most authentic challenge to the establishment elites and rotten institutions in the country. This is true, but I think it doesn’t go deep enough. It is possible that underlying the present enthusiasm for Trump and Sanders is a longing in the soul for the good ends of the good life that are slipping away in our dysfunctional country. Sanders is offering the old fashioned true religion of socialism, which has a (defective) theory behind it as to how it heals the human soul, while Trump is offering something very different with his appeal to national greatness, which is why he probably would win over Sanders in the end.
I ran across a passage from Harry Jaffa’s critique of Martin Diamond (who had been a Trotskyite socialist as a young man) that sheds some light on the deeper currents here, and also, along the way, explains why the kids went nuts on college campuses in the 1960s and again in recent months—causes that are linked in the background of our current discontent:
Diamond argued that socialism’s profounder claim was not economic, but moral. And this claim was characteristic of all brands of socialism, Marxist and non-Marxist alike. It was the belief that the solution to the economic problem was at the same time the solution of the human problem, the problem of human well-being. But Diamond was convinced that the very success of capitalism had given the lie to socialism: in the proof that material well-being did not bring with it that satisfaction that must be the mark of genuine happiness. Diamond’s turning away from socialism prepared him to understand the crisis of capitalism, the crisis, long developing, that came to a head in the later 1960s. It was the crisis of the upper middle classes, in particular the children of these classes—the ones who predominated in the classrooms—the pampered darlings of the most economically privileged class the world has ever seen. Many of these supremely privileged beings became a “counterculture,” and rejected the system that privileged them, as if in fact they had been the most oppressed class in history. In doing so they became the most powerful empirical evidence for a proposition that should not have needed any empirical evidence: the proposition that even an infinity of means cannot become a substitute for ends.
Human happiness, Diamond was convinced—as indeed were all those who had turned from “moderns” to “ancients” for guidance on this question—consisted in a proper relationship between means and ends. Socialism, born of radical modernity, denied that there were any ends of human life, either of God or of nature, either of faith or of reason. It had substituted in their place the project of infinite means. The classless society of the future, projected by Marx in the German Ideology, was one in which there was no external obstacle to the will. . .