About Wolves and Sheep

“A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves”
—Edward R. Murrow

So much political analysis is shaped in the echo chambers of Washington and New York, and while it may be conventional it frequently lacks wisdom. Just think about how many times you’ve heard well-regarded analysts proclaim with certainty that something was impossible, only to see it materialize a few months later. Donald Trump? He’ll fade by August. Well, certainly by September. There’s no way he can survive after insulting John McCain. He’ll be gone by December. Just wait until actual primary voters go to the polls in February. The Access Hollywood tape? The election is over. Just wait until actual general election voters go to the polls in November . . . 

There’s a good reason for this. In order to navigate the complexities of the political process you need a frame of reference, like a prior event that helps make sense of it all. Take Trump again. He ran for president in 2016 against a bunch of candidates with little experience or marginal qualifications who took turns emerging as frontrunners before disappearing quickly. Because Trump profiled as a celebrity, he was initially dismissed as a vanity candidate who would have his hour upon the stage and then be heard no more. But what if the 2016 contest wasn’t fundamentally like others that came before it? What if the Republican electorate had changed in significant ways that appealed to Trump supporters? Then the analysis won’t hold up. And it didn’t.

Much political analysis relies on a journalistic frame of reference centering on idiosyncratic personalities and events. You can understand a lot with this model during periods of political stability when deviations from political orthodoxy are rare. At Wolves and Sheep, we don’t believe we’re living in such a time. So we apply a different frame of reference that treats individuals, events, even entire elections as elements of an interrelated system, and try to understand them in the context of the political moment. Our point of reference is the last time we experienced severe political and social dislocation, in the 1960s, when the Democratic Party’s New Deal coalition was fraying and movement conservatism was pushing the Republican Party to the right. There are many nontrivial parallels between that moment and today’s politics, as the once-dominant Reagan regime finds itself challenged from within by a radicalized base and from without by rapidly changing demography. Those parallels and an understanding of political party decline, decay and renewal can help us understand events in a way that Beltway commentators may not be able to see.

Welcome to Wolves and Sheep — and buckle up. We live in interesting times.