In Defense of Institutions
December 12, 2016 2:28 am by Jacob McAllister
On November 7, 2016, the electorate of the United States of America collectively altered the political, social, and economic landscape of our nation in such a way that shook its foundations to their very core. For the better part of 18 months, Donald J. Trump subjected us all to his crude form of populism, which was equal parts bombast and vitriol. He proceeded to galvanize the partisan hostility that had been brewing on both sides for the last decade or so in our country, and did so in a way that had not been seen in our lifetime. A mainstay of his rhetoric were his daily attacks on the “mainstream media”, complete with his catchy nicknames he loves to throw around, that have his base eating from the palm of his hand. He has consistently attacked members of the “Washington Establishment”, he is hostile towards public education, the EPA, the United Nations, the list goes on and on. All of this, coupled with a hardcore following that is enthralled by his cult of personality, amounts to a wholesale attack on the basic institutions of democracy. These include our Government, Educational and Social Institutions, the Media, indeed the very fabric of our society.
Viva La Revolucion de Deplorable
The base of the republican party has been feeding on a steady diet of acrimonious discourse for years now. They have long distrusted the media, and perhaps not totally without warrant, but the last decade or so has brought about something entirely different. The stage is now set for wholesale dismissal of facts coming from sources deemed “unworthy” or “biased”. 8 years of angry partisan rhetoric, along with right-wing media outlets like Breitbart stoking the flames with gasoline, have given us a situation that is ripe for exploitation by certain parties who have a loosey-goosey relationship with ethics and morality. It is in this mess we now sit, and the cross-hairs are aimed right smack at American Democracy.
The Anti-Intellectual Root of the Problem
Another aspect to this situation is the troubling persistence of fake news and conspiracy-theory websites, and the refusal of the party to disassociate themselves with such sites. This gives credence to this nonsense, whether the party establishment wants to admit it or not. A lot of this is rooted in the long standing tradition by some in this country towards anti-intellectualism. There are millions of people who are intelligent, but are distrustful of knowledge, because they see it as a threat. They don’t like education, they distrust facts, and generally are suspicious of others. These people are who conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones thrive on exploiting.
Unsavory characters such as these have found a home in the Republican party due to its increasingly hostile attitude towards government. They have thus far remained in the background however, something of a nuisance to the establishment of the party. No more. The fringe has taken over, and now all the party can do is sit back and watch, and presumably hope for the best.
It is not hyperbolic to worry about where this kind of sentiment could take us. When people start questioning the basic validity of core principles upon which our society is based, the road to anarchy, or something much worse is not far from sight. All of this is equally troubling when you take into consideration the fact that a large number of his supporters like the fact that he is a strong leader, presumably because they do not like to have to think about complex issues to problems that we as a country face, and so they would rather have someone else make those decisions for them. This is a dangerous road.
I have lived most of my adult life as the wacky, left wing ACLU radical liberal. Never, ever once would I have referred to myself as someone who supports the “establishment”. I have supported progressive causes passionately, which almost always put me at odds with whatever position might be considered mainstream. Like everyone else, I have grown more mature and restrained in my beliefs and attitudes as I’ve aged, but my tendency towards progressive policies will always be there. However, I now find myself standing up in defense of established institutions in our society. I have grown to appreciate them with my old age. Government, the Education System, the Courts, the Press, all play a crucial role in our experiment in Democracy. That experiment is extremely fragile and ongoing, and I will rigorously fight to protect it at all costs.
It is good to have a healthy distrust of institutions, especially those who have not always held the greatest reputation for honesty, to put it mildly. This distrust provides a healthy counter-balance, and keeps them in check. However, the fact remains that there are many, many great people out there doing the hard work of making our society function. These people must be encouraged and uplifted at all costs. I will close with this quote from our current president which I find very fitting. This was taken from VICE’s fantastic documentary special A House Divided:
One thing I’ve learned in this job is that I’m really progressive when it comes to policy beliefs. But I’m more conservative when it comes to our institutions. I’ve seen enough around the world regarding total revolution to see that it doesn’t always play out well. Our founders had this incredible wisdom to create a basic structure that works to bring about change in a big, diverse, complicated society like ours. And I think those values and those institutions are worth preserving.
I have not changed Washington in the way that I sought out to. But what I worry about in our politics is people getting impatient with the slowness of democracy, and the less effective Congress works, the more likely people are to start giving up on some of the core values and basic institutions that have helped us whether a lot of storms…
Man am I gonna miss that guy.