This is a country founded on a document that took the most powerful man on earth and trashed him as a “Tyrant” who was “unfit to be the ruler of a free people.” That king, by the way, was hardly the most oppressive monarch in European history. George III was far more influenced by Enlightenment values than he ever gets credit for. But we pushed him out anyway. American defiance, it’s worth noting, exists because of this British patrimony, not in spite of it. English ideas of liberty and checking authority were well established here; so too (this is often overlooked) was Irish insolence, with those of Irish lineage making up the backbone of the Continental Army.
Today, that rebellious streak isn’t always clear in the American personality. Outside of a couple northeastern cities, Americans don’t take the piss out of each other the way that Scots and Australians do. Our anti-authoritarianism can end up buried beneath other qualities, our niceness and even our credulity. We love a good monorail salesman in this country, don’t we? A populist savior who comes to town promising the world? At times, it can seem like the problem is that we aren’t skeptical enough.
Yet what is a populist except a middle finger to the ruling class (even if the populist has his own ambitions to rule)? Consider that our most famous populist, Donald Trump, was elected because he was willing to flaunt norms, not undergird them. Trump said things that Americans had been told for decades they weren’t supposed to say. Given the chance to smash taboos, half the country said yes please.