Two-thirds of Americans can’t see themselves supporting either of the presumptive Presidential candidates. This is what the abolition of politics looks like.
A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 68 percent of registered voters don’t see themselves supporting Donald Trump for president. A slightly lower percentage of voters are unenthusiastic about Hillary Clinton. This might be why many Americans are not planning to vote this fall. But is this good for American politics?
In the past, politics was viewed in a positive light. From the Greek polis—city—political institutions helped citizens band together to form communities. The Founders believed an elected official didn’t have to be a genius but should have “the most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of the society” (Madison).
This vision has been in decline since the end of the 19th century, and especially since the New Deal. American political culture has become politicized. Politicization is the turn toward law and politics to find solutions to almost every public problem. Business interests, higher education, religious institutions, media, minorities—you name it—all seek legitimacy through the rights conferred by Washington. This however is idolatry.
The Bible defines idolatry as loving anything too much (other than God). God loves everything but doesn’t love everything equally. He loves people more than petunias (not that there’s anything wrong with petunias). God’s loves are ordered. Our loves ought to be ordered; loving the things God loves in the order in which he loves them. We’re to love God, neighbor, then good food, friends, conversation, work, play, leisure, politics, and so on. Loving anything too little is ignorance. Loving anything too much (like politics) is idolatry. This captures American political culture. It’s idolatrous, or politicized.
Politicization ruined Bismarck’s Europe. In 1968, Henry Kissinger’s “The White Revolutionary” was published in the magazine Daedalus. He touches on Bismarck’s “new order” that was “tailored to a genius” who could win voters by “manipulating their antagonisms.” In politicized cultures, candidates stoke resentments while making outlandish promises. In Bismarck’s Europe, this would fan the flames of fascism.
At the end of the day, politicized cultures are unsustainable because they’re based on the “great man” (or great person) view of history, a 19th century idea that history is primarily shaped by heroic individuals. They exhibit superior rhetorical skills, charisma, and political savvy. The only problem with this theory is that it is mostly wrong. Influential individuals matter, but they operate inside institutions and, as Kissinger wrote, institutions only require “an average standard of performance.” They don’t require a savior. They can be sustained under a subpar leader. But they can’t survive a savior. Political saviors ultimately destroy institutions by not respecting constitutional limits.
This seems to explain the lack of enthusiasm over Clinton and Trump. Most Americans are not politicized animals. They’re honest, hard working people. They care about politics but are irked by the poisoned atmosphere of Washington. They look at the two presumptive candidates and ask can’t we do better than this? Apparently not. Most Americans want a responsible leader. Trump and Clinton are opportunists.
Kissinger wrote that a society led by opportunists “will doom itself” because they seek “to mold reality to their purposes.” Sensible leaders “adapt their purposes to reality.” This is reminiscent of C. S. Lewis’ observation in The Abolition of Man. “For the wise men of old, the cardinal problem of human life was how to conform the soul to objective reality. For the modern, the cardinal problem is how to conform reality to the wishes of man.” It seems we’re witnessing the abolition of politics.
It’s taken over a century for American political culture to devolve to politicization. It won’t change by November. We’d be wise to reframe our political argument. I recommend Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. Read it and decide whether Haidt offers a way forward.
 Jacques Ellul, The Political Illusion (New York: Random House, 1967).
 As quoted in Niall Ferguson, Kissinger, 1923-1968: The Idealist (New York: Penguin, 2015), pp. 697-698.