Cao: Egalitarianism forgotten in turbulent presidential race


Henry Cao, Columnist

There is a war between the establishment and populist wings of America’s major political parties. Indeed, the strong candidacies of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump show that maintaining a rigid partisan platform is neither popular nor sustainable.

I do believe that we need to do some political pioneering; exploration is essential for the advancement of society. Trump and Sanders are trying to redefine the political landscape. However, I think that their platforms are not innovative in the slightest.

I feel no need to discuss establishment candidates, since their existence confirms the idea of an elite political class. A groundbreaking study shows that well-coordinated economic elites have the most control over the American political system and the elite political class often panders to their interests.

Populist candidates offer an alternative to this elitism. Trump evokes a certain nostalgia, a dangerous fantasy or America’s “better days.” His illiberal views on immigration, race relations and foreign policy indicate that he does not value many minorities. Intolerance has brought America to its knees multiple times and a President Trump would impose de facto second-class citizenship for millions of Americans.

On the other hand, Sanders preaches the good news of democratic socialism. His quixotic vision is alluring to many, but is corrupted by his demonization of the economic elite. This rhetoric promotes the idea that some people, such as the 1 percent, are more predisposed to evil than others and not deserving of the same dignity that all people deserve. Although Sanders presents himself as egalitarian, he is deviating from the Nordic Model to which he subscribes, which is corporatist. Under that system, employers and employees are treated as equals and constantly bargain and collaborate with each other.

I will concede that populism yields some plausible ideas, but as a political movement, it is no more than the unfocused rage of voters, a mere shout in the street.

There is one virtue that is missing among today’s political discourse. It has been untouched by the media. Even presidential candidates have seldom, if ever, spoke of this virtue with conviction. This virtue is egalitarianism, and it is everything the U.S. strives to be.

Egalitarianism, in its purest form, is the belief that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities. Historical research by economists has shown that the America of the Founding Fathers was the world’s most egalitarian society at the time. Sadly the political, economic and social inequality in modern day America is so shameful that our posterity will look back on us with scorn. Certain institutions in contemporary society, such as our broken criminal justice system, will be criticized in future history textbooks with the same ferocity as that of slavery and Jim Crow.

The egalitarian ideal is for one person to look at any other person and admire just as they admire themselves. Formal political rights, low income inequality and social progress are good indicators of an egalitarian society, but they fall short of the personal aspect necessary for this society to exist. Egalitarianism commands a strong understanding of self and necessitates insight into the experiences of others. If people were to view others with this kind of respect, then political, economic and social progress would be much swifter.

I am unconvinced that any presidential candidate, even Sanders, comes close to subscribing to egalitarian ideas. Egalitarianism is a fusion of equality of opportunity and equality of outcome, although it does not impose sameness. It is the realization that hierarchy is a state of mind and that people share the same existence.

I believe the virtue of egalitarianism is a fire that America needs to rekindle. It is not based on corrupted traditional values or warped views of the past and present. Egalitarianism encourages innovation in thought and incorporates a broad scope of political ideologies. The best way forward is to look at the commonalities that we all share.

Henry Cao is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.