Like most nerds who would rather watch instead of read, my access to the concept of ‘the greater fool’ happened through The Newsroom, which takes an economic concept and applies it loosely to the spirit of Don Quixote, which is often mistakenly (and intentionally) quoted in the show from Man of La Mancha to hilarious effect.
I’ll let everyone’s favorite TV nerd genius Sloan Sabbith explain:
To be the ‘greater fool’ in society is like being an entrepreneur, the three Republican senators who shot down the recent healthcare proposal, or the person who refused to budge in front of those tanks in Tiananmen Square. There’s a high probability of failure and embarrassment, but in order to gamble for a better future outcome, a big risk needs to be made.
Only ‘greater fools’ make those kinds of risks.
But what if that’s happening on both fronts?
Yes, I’m talking about our current president, but this is not just a critique of the right. Much of what’s happening today can be explained by the rise of some other ‘greater fools’ who are now highly influential in mainstream politics. I’ll let The Newsroom explain again.
The Tea Party began as a fringe group of people who started as a general protest against anything perceived as “too-liberal “— high taxes, government overreach, a president with a less-than-optimal complexion, etc. — somehow grabbed conservatism as a whole by the throat and is now well-positioned in tandem with the ‘alt-right’ to whisper in the ears of occupants of the Oval Office and members of Congress.
Trump as a perfect example of the ‘greater fool’ and, too his credit, used a success strategy to stay in the conversation against millions of advertising money spent against him by his opponents. As Sabbith describes:
“The greater fool is someone with the perfect blend of self-delusion and ego to think that he can succeed where others have failed.”
In an ironic way, The Newsroom described the rise of an idealism that completely opposed the political perspective it wanted to advocate. There still may be hope for liberals, but I’m here to suggest caution instead of inspiration.
The left has its own ‘greater fool’ — a powerful one at that.
I’m not talking about Ralph Nader, Dennis Kucinich, or Michael Moore, though all three paved the way for our current ‘greater fool’: Bernie Sanders.
Like Trump, Sanders is similarly uncompromising, stays on message rather than considers multiple arguments, and establishes a clear line between the “good guys” and “bad guys” during his political campaign. Hillary Clinton has been a ‘greater fool’ her entire life (after her switch from being a Goldwater Republican), leaning in when others have told her that it’s not her place to do so. In the end, she leaned into too much that others were able to paint her successfully as part of the status quo.
43% the Democratic party voted for Sanders in the primaries. (Trump had a similar percentage, though one could argue that the GOP’s new expedited primary skews voting in favor of the front-runner over time). Perhaps more would vote for him next time if he or a similarly charismatic and ideologically aligned candidate rose through the ranks. (Sanders will be 77 in 2020 — but anything can happen nowadays).
Of all the content that inspired liberals to support Sanders, it has to be this video compiling his consistency towards their cause over 30 years. (Worked on me … but I still supported the moderate compromise in the end.)
Sanders reminds me of that cool sociology professor who inspires a new crop of youngsters to stick it to the man and read some Howard Zinn. Somehow, he transcended that 18–25 college demographic and tapped into the closeted liberals of the 1960s and beyond, someone who refused to compromise with neo-conservatism and get the party back to being for the people, by the people.
Whenever I ask my conservative peers, I get a near-universal response: they prefer Sanders over Clinton. I can understand some of the appeal: strong connection with the working class, relatively relaxed approach to gun control, and a clear set of principles that don’t bend to political trends.
However, I’m not entirely convinced their leanings would hold up in the general election when propaganda machines launch an all-out assault on Sanders’ mission to turn the U.S. towards democratic socialism. Moreover, listening closely, Sanders was always shakier on foreign policy and national defense than Clinton — a big issue for conservatives as well.
Independent voters are fascinating to me. Elections usually end at the primaries for a near-lifelong liberal such as myself, so I’d love to collect more data on how independents think … individually and as a collective.
A new era of charismatic extremism — and we should be afraid
What’s clear is that there’s a new form of extremism in this country, and it’s led symbolically by two ‘greater fools’ in Trump and Sanders. What scares me the most is that people may be gravitating to those extremes in order to hedge a potentially winning team, to feel safe, or because that kind of solidarity feels awesome when you’re caught up in it.
I think there a war coming that neither moderate liberals or conservatives are fully aware.
Take the culture for/against political correctness, for example. For many Trump supporters, this issue was a primary one for independent voters. Viewed as a brave yet radical move against the rising trends of social justice, cultural empathy, equity, and dignity — political correctness is now sidelined in the name of unbridled personal freedom and unsolicited symbolic violence. Those anti-political correctness warriors have won for now, and they won’t let go of their position without a fight.
(At the same time, they’ll complain about the desecration of the American flag, the Confederate flag, or even “Merry Christmas” vs “Happy Holidays” — all political correctness arguments as well.)
In other words, instead of finally creating an opportunity to talk about things that we long repressed due to fear of violent reprisal, we’re now talking about a return to “the good old days” and a reversal of what many would argue made America truly great in the previous decades: a spirit of inclusion, understanding, and compromise.
We’re losing our ability to be moderate and balanced. The extremes seek to divide and conquer instead of unite and empathize. This should scare EVERYONE.
This country was made by ‘greater fools,’ but it could also be destroyed by them as well.