Thursday, February 9, 2017
In America magazine, Bill McGarvey has an optimistic essay suggesting that the Trump administration is inspiring a defense of institutions that the public had long taken for granted:
The good news? These unprecedented executive actions [by President Trump] have inspired equally unprecedented public outrage. Countless people—men, women, young, old, from every imaginable background—have taken to the streets to protest. People who have never been activists before are getting involved. In this time of institutional diminishment, it has taken the threat to stable institutions that we take for granted for millions to awaken and rise up in their defense.
I hope he's right, but I think it's too early to tell. One concern I have is that the political movement that ultimately wins out over President Trump's populist nationalism will build on Trump's political strategy and simply replace his substantive policy ideas and worldview. Trump succeeded, in part, by promoting a cynical view of institutions, which, in his rhetoric, are largely indistinguishable from "the establishment." Will the Democratic Party's next standard-bearer beat out his or her rivals with a full-throated defense of institutions, or by using Trump's tactics ("the system is rigged") to accomplish different policy goals while doubling down on cynicism toward institutions? The case for institutions may be too nuanced to get much oxygen in a political climate where outrage will be the dominant element for the foreseeable future.