On the Politics of Non-Politicians

Pages and pages have been spent on the question, “If they hate Washington so much, why do they want to go there so badly?” And the past five years have been consumed with the question of whether or not the president is in fact a politician.

In the latter case, it doesn’t matter. Our politics have changed more in the past five years than under any professional politician in memory.

What’s more interesting to consider is the growing trend of “non-politicians” in politics. Is Bernie Sanders, for example, a politician?

We keep reaching for easy, broad labels like populist or autocrat. Those might not be the most instructive. Better, perhaps, to consider the historical precedents of “outsiders” who found ways not only to enter politics but to change the field of play.

The Gracchi of late-Republican Rome spring to mind; surely there are others. Now as then, the field has been shifted from this team vs. that one to “the people” vs. the status quo.

That’s a heady experience for both sides. Reframing yet again is essential: the debate has to come back to alternatives we can all live with.