We’re living in an age of radicalism.The level of anger in America is indeed completely unrelated to the agendas of our political parties. A few years ago we had a screaming debate about taxes, accompanied by charges of "fascism" and "socialism," but the issue was really whether the top income tax rate would be 33% or 38%. Sometimes it seems like the loud rhetoric serves partly to hide the smallness of the actual differences between the parties.
But today’s radicalism is unusual. First, we have radical anger without radical policies.
Stylistically and culturally, Trumpian populism screams “blow it up” and “drain the swamp.” But Donald Trump’s actual policies are run-of-the-mill corporatist. The left-wing radicals talk a lot against the systems of oppression and an institutionalized injustice. But they are nothing like the radicals of the 1930s or the 1960s.
Today’s radicals do not want to upend the meritocracy, which is creating a caste system of inherited inequality. They don’t want to stop technical innovation, which is displacing millions of workers. They don’t have plans to reverse individualism, which atomizes society and destroys community. A $15 minimum wage may be left wing, but it’s not Marxist-Leninism.
So far as I can see there are no new ideas in our politics. Nobody knows how the meritocracy might be improved or what might replace it, and nobody has a plan for restoring the lost community solidarity that Brooks spends so much time bemoaning. Nobody knows what to do about the coming rise of robots and artificial intelligence. Nobody knows how to heal the rifts in our nation.
So we shout empty slogans and accuse each other of sin.