Continuing on the theme that the media have abandoned the bandwagon . . . The National Journal’s Ron Fournier and Sophie Quinton have penned a description of Obama’s dystopian America. Its title ought to be “Midnight in America,” in order to highlight the contrast with Reagan’s 1984 campaign theme. Instead, the title is “In Nothing We Trust: Americans are losing faith in the institutions that made this country great.”
And that’s where the writers get it wrong. The institutions are not what made America great. The American people, who according to the Constitution were to be largely unconstrained by those institutions, are what made this nation great.
Over the years we’ve strayed from that notion. Fournier and Quinton include a graphic that shows how far Americans have lost trust in various institutions in the decade since 2002. Governmental institutions have suffered especially badly: police down 3%, Supreme Court down 13%, Congress off 17%, and what should be ominous news for Barack Obama, trust in the institution of the Presidency has fallen 23% since the early days of the Bush administration. The only institution with a bigger decline was banks, down 24%. But I have to wonder how much of that was people who lumped the central bank, the Fed, into their answer.
Alone among public institutions, the military didn’t fall in the public’s esteem. (It was off a statistically insignificant 1%.) But I’m here to tell you as a commissioned officer in the United States Army, that you have too much faith in that institution too. Americans have lost faith in the institutions of government. And that is a good thing.
The Federalist Papers, a series of essays written by the Constitution’s authors, explain the logic of that great document. They are as timely now as they were then. In Federalist 25 Alexander Hamilton succinctly encapsulates the rationale behind the Constitution:
“The people are always most in danger when the means of injuring their rights are in the possession of those of whom they entertain the least suspicion.”
The entire Constitution is a framework of checks and balances to ensure that no entity can ever be beyond suspicion. We’ve lost that since. The power of Washington was to be checked by the states. That disappeared with the 17th Amendment, and now today the states are hamstrung by unfunded mandates. The people were to be sovereign in their own homes. That went away in 1937 when the Supreme Court preposterously ruled that food that you grow for your own family is interstate commerce. And in 1920 the federal government began the practice of protecting the people from themselves, setting up a century of regulations that constrain everything we do.
Unlike Fournier and Quinton, I don’t fret that Americans have lost faith in their institutions. I relish it. For no one can save us as well as we can save ourselves. There is nothing that we should trust as much as we trust ourselves. That, and not our institutions, is the greatness of America.
Thanks to Glenn for the link. He provides some additional reading material, including this 2010 piece from Walter Russell Mead, whose continuing coverage of the breakdown of the “Blue Model” is always informative and thought-provoking.