Steve Coll documents that “polarization and tribalization in today’s politics” results from “the country’s disillusionment with institutions” — a proposition in accord with TIMN dynamics.
“Since the nineteen-seventies, Gallup has been polling Americans annually about their confidence in their country’s institutions — the military, the Supreme Court, Congress, the Presidency, organized religion, the health-care establishment, and public schools, among others. Over all, the project describes a collapse in trust over time, even though the surveys started amid the disillusionment of Watergate and the failed war in Vietnam. In 1973, more than four in ten Americans had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in Congress. This year, the figure was twelve per cent. Trust in churches and other religious institutions has fallen from sixty-five per cent to forty-one per cent in the same period. Confidence in public schools has dropped from fifty-eight per cent to thirty-six per cent. The loss of faith in the “medical system” has been particularly dramatic — a decline from eighty per cent in 1975 to thirty-seven per cent this year. There are a few exceptions to the broad slide. Confidence in the police has held steady at just above fifty per cent. Confidence in the military has increased, from fifty-eight per cent in the aftermath of the Vietnam War to seventy-two percent this year. Otherwise, it isn’t clear where citizens have redirected their faith, or whether they have at all.
“The polarization and tribalization in today’s politics may exacerbate this loss of confidence or contribute to it, or both. Increasingly, daily life is mediated less by the institutional doors we walk through from day to day and more by the connections and decisions we make online. Last week, Tim Wu, the law professor and author, wrote in the Times that, for example, the boom in bitcoin — a virtual currency whose market price had, he noted, risen from thirty-nine cents apiece to more than eighteen thousand dollars in just eight years — reflects how, “More and more, we are losing faith in humans and depending instead on machines.” The danger, though, extends beyond financial bubbles.
“Even in a stable constitutional republic, a cynical or unmoored citizenry presents an opportunity for demagogues and populists. As much as stagnant wages in former manufacturing regions, glaring economic inequality, or white backlash after the Obama Presidency, the country’s disillusionment with institutions enabled Donald Trump’s election.”