How the Establishment Wins

A few years ago, Malcolm Gladwell wrote an awesome article for The New Yorker:  How David Beats Goliath.   Read it after you read this.

The story encourages and frustrates at the same time.

Encourages because we learn Davids can, occasionally, beat Goliaths.  Frustrates because Goliaths tend to change the rules just before the epic battle.


That’s how the establishment wins—by establishing the rules. And changing them as necessary. Not exactly fair,  but fairness isn’t in the rule book.

Insurgents win by rejecting the establishment’s rules.

The reason conservative insurgents struggle is our good, middle class upbringing.  We believe in established customs, established manners, and even established music.  Then we get upset when the establishment serves itself first, leaving us the leftovers.

If we’re to overcome our manners and execute Gladwell’s strategies for defeating Goliaths, then we we better understand how the establish wins.  And I’m going to tell you. I’ll at least try.

The establishment wins by laying down the rules. And charming us into accepting them.

In Gladwell’s story, an unlikely girls basketball team used the full-court press to disrupt the established basketball giants in Silicon Valley.  Until the championship game.

By then, the establishment had gotten together and convinced the referees to fight against the girls.

The refs called foul after foul.  The insurgent team lost to the establishment.

And the slaves lived happily ever after.

In con games, the con artist gets the mark to accept some rule, some stipulation.  “If I can do x then you will do y.”  The mark always loses his shirt.

Why?  Because the con artist knows the game and creates the rules in his favor.

In elections, the establishment follows the same pattern.

  • Applaud the insurgents
  • Pretend to be an insurgent
  • Lay down the rules for insurgency

Establishment candidates have cash and the power cash brings. They can buy prominent endorsements. They can intimidate potential donors of the opponents.

Because cash, and the power of cash, is their strength, they establish a rule early:

  • Thou shalt not discuss money

When the insurgents stop talking about money, the establishment places the next subject off-limits.  Say the establishment candidate worked to save a RINO.

  • Thou shalt not discuss my endorsements

And so on.

Eventually, the insurgents are left with nothing.  The rules have changed. The game the insurgents thought they were playing is over, and a new game begun.

Down the road, the rules changes that preserved the establishment this time will haunt them. But they’re the establishment; they’ll change the rules again.

The reason the Tea Party happened wasn’t because Barack Obama was elected or because TARP passed.

If the Tea Party is to reassert Constitutional Conservatism, then we cannot live by the establishment’s rules.

The Tea Party happened because the establishment blinked in the presence of the insurgency. Lehman Brothers fell.  TARP failed in the House.  We caught them.  And we’ll never fear them quite the same way again.


7 thoughts on “How the Establishment Wins”

    1. Did David break the rules by using a slingshot against Goliath? Did the girls’ basketball coach Ranadivé break the rules by using a full-court press all the time?

      It depends on whom you ask.

      The Establishment would say “yes.” By breaking convention, these insurgents were breaking “rules.”

      The Rule Book says “no.” Nothing banned slingshots in combat, and the full-court press is a legal defense in little girls’ basketball.

      The Establishment didn’t change the rule books–it used its influence and power to persuade referees to apply existing rules . . . differently.

      Here’s a telling quote from the article:

      What happened, Arreguín-Toft wondered, when the underdogs likewise acknowledged their weakness and chose an unconventional strategy? He went back and re-analyzed his data. In those cases, David’s winning percentage went from 28.5 to 63.6. When underdogs choose not to play by Goliath’s rules, they win, Arreguín-Toft concluded, “even when everything we think we know about power says they shouldn’t.”

      Read more

      Coincidentally, the action after which the Tea Party movement named itself was a clear rules violation, if you will. Americans boarded ships and destroyed about a million bucks worth of someone else’s property. But that’s not the kind of rule breaking we’re talking about in this post.

      1. “It depends on whom you ask.”

        It also depends upon what you accept as being the rules – rules? Or what is right and what is wrong?

        What if you’ve got the right rules, right there in black and white… but it’s been agreed that some don’t have to play by them? And breaking the rules strengthens the hands of those who are ignoring the rules, and erodes the rules even more?

        I think that’s a tougher question than all the rest. The Rules are Right. The rules aren’t being followed. Breaking the rules to correct those who are cheating, will destroy the rules and strengthen the position of the cheaters.

        There’s where we are today. I don’t think the Basketball Coach, David or T.E. Lawrence have much to say about our situation. Except… maybe to say – whichever way you think is how to play the game, is wrong. Every time. Hands down. Stop playing.

        The rules which are right, the rules we want to preserve, are in the Constitution. The game we’ve been playing, claims to control access to the levers our constitution controls. What if they don’t? What if it’s only playing the game, that keeps us from living by the rules?

        What did the computer say in “Wargames”? “Strange game, the only way to win, is not to play the game. How about a nice game of chess?”

        Maybe the establishment wins only because we keep playing by the game. Maybe finding the next, perfect player, and putting him into the game, always fails because playing the game is the means of maintaining their ability to ignore the rules?

        So what does that mean?

        Oh… answers again? Fresh out. Got some question though.

        The Tea Party Rallies worked (and by ‘worked’ I mean they shook up those playing the game), not because we passed any laws or changed any players, but because we brought their game into highly visible, public, ridicule – what if that’s more important than getting another player into the game?

        The Law lives in the people’s expectations and in their hearts and minds, not on the paper.  

        We’ve got plenty of paper, but no law, because no one expects it to work, and few of those who do, know what it says or means. Referees can only control the players in the game… if we don’t have any players in the game, what happens to their power?

        What if it’s more important to change the expectations and knowledge of the crowd, than it is to put people into the game?

        How do we do That?

        Sorry, again, few answers… just some questions.

      2. “…—but not before making Goliath wonder whether he was a giant, after all.”
        There’s power in that. Yep.Read more

  1. Here’s another trick of
    the establishment – associate something they have plenty of (which the
    insurgents need but lack), with the greatest threat to the establishment – make
    them associate their single greatest strength, with the establishment’s ability
    to abuse it – sewing dissention and discrediting both issues, all the while
    continuing on with the status quo.


    Here’s another: whenever
    the insurgents get a few steps ahead, drag them a yard back and draw their
    attention to how much ground they’ve lost (and hope against hope that they
    don’t notice how they are a step further forward than they were when they
    began)… and have another drink, loudly, publicly,  while trying to
    ignore the fact that the status quo is eroding beneath their feet.


    Nope, I don’t have any
    answers for the moment ‘something that’ll work! Now!’, just blood, sweat &
    tears… and frustration… and the ability to keep plodding along. That, and
    the ability to see what is actually important, and what is a distraction. 


    Gather people back
    together, and to take another step.

    1. Van said: “Nope, I don’t have any answers for the moment ‘something that’ll work! Now!’,

      That’s the pain here. The basketball coach, David, T. E. Lawrence had “a-ha” moments in which their underdog’s strength aligned perfectly with their adversary’s weakness.

      My trouble is determining how you know you’ve got the right strength? When do you know you’ve exploited the right vulnerability?

      I guess we do have the answer–we just won’t know it until the final buzzer.

      In the meantime, keep up the full-court press against that long rail line with slingshots.

      1. “My trouble is determining how you know you’ve got the right strength? When do you know you’ve exploited the right vulnerability?”

        I suspect that all you can know is whether or not you have strength is, and whether or not you can see that you are at least right… no guarantees, you do your best, pick between what’s probably bad and worse, and go. 
        Keep your eyes open, adjust, go again.

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