Bill Bishop in the Washington Post: “…Trust in American institutions, however, has been in decline for some time. Trump is merely feeding on that sentiment.
The leaders of once-powerful institutions are desperate to resurrect the faith of the people they serve. They act like they have misplaced a credit card and must find the number so that a replacement can be ordered and then FedEx-ed, if possible overnight.
But that delivery truck is never coming. The decline in trust isn’t because of what the press (or politicians or scientists) did or didn’t do. Americans didn’t lose their trust because of some particular event or scandal. And trust can’t be regained with a new app or even an outbreak of competence. To believe so is to misunderstand what was lost.
In 1964, 3 out of 4 Americans trusted their government to do the right thing most of the time. By 1976, that number had dropped to 33 percent. It was a decline that political scientist Walter Dean Burnham described as “among the largest ever recorded in opinion surveys.”…
Everything about modern life works against community and trust. Globalization and urbanization put people in touch with the different and the novel. Our economy rewards initiative over conformity, so that the weight of convention and tradition doesn’t squelch the latest gizmo from coming to the attention of the next Bill Gates. Whereas parents in the 1920s said it was most important for their children to be obedient, that quality has declined in importance, replaced by a desire for independence and autonomy. Widespread education gives people the tools to make up their own minds. And technology offers everyone the chance to be one’s own reporter, broadcaster and commentator.
We have become, in Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman’s description, “artists of our own lives,” ignoring authorities and booting traditions while turning power over to the self. The shift in outlook has been all-encompassing. It has changed the purpose of marriage (once a practical arrangement, now a means of personal fulfillment). It has altered the relationship between citizens and the state (an all-volunteer fighting force replacing the military draft). It has transformed the understanding of art (craftsmanship and assessment are out; free-range creativity and self-promotion are in). It has even inverted the orders of humanity and divinity (instead of obeying a god, now we choose one).
People enjoy their freedoms. There’s no clamoring for a return to gray flannel suits and deferential housewives. Constant social retooling and choice come with costs, however. Without the authority and guidance of institutions to help order their lives, many people feel overwhelmed and adrift. “Depression is truly our modern illness,” writes French sociologist Alain Ehrenberg, with rates 20 to 30 times what they were just two generations ago.
Sustained collective action has also become more difficult. Institutions are turning to behavioral “nudges,” hoping to move an increasingly suspicious public to do what once could be accomplished by command or law. As groups based on tradition and consistent association dwindle, they are being replaced by “event communities,” temporary gatherings that come and go without long-term commitment (think Burning Man). The protests spawned by Trump’s election are more about passion than organization and focus. Today’s demonstrations are sometimes compared to civil-rights-era marches, but they have more in common with L.A.’s Sunset Strip riots of 1966, when more than 1,000 young people gathered to object to a 10 p.m. curfew. “There’s something happening here,” goes the Buffalo Springfield song “For What It’s Worth,” commemorating the riots. “What it is ain’t exactly clear.” In our new politics, expression is a purpose itself….(More)”.