On the one hand, this is a very cynical, destructive and indeed existential argument. On the other hand, lots of people bought it. The good news is that Trump is not currently president. The bad news is that on his way out, he delivered a near fatal blow to these institutions when he urged supporters to “fight like hell” and march on the capitol. Sure, the system upheld and rejected Trump’s game. But the cost was in deep disarray, a crumbling political state that has yet to fully grapple with the image of one president tarnishing the system. In a democracy governed by unwritten norms, adding a dangerous precedent is one of the most destabilizing things you can do. And who knows who will be forced to push the precedent further next time?
The more immediate question for American democracy is: Why did it? more people vote for donald trump in 2020 than in 2016? Certainly they did not miss the news cycle of his entire presidency. It is impossible to have missed that he has systematically undermined the institutions that the government relies on. So could it be that they bought the story that the institutions were unworthy of redemption? Confirmed his presidency Something about the decline in general social trust?
Consider the Edelman Trust Barometer. The public relations firm has conducted an annual global survey measuring public trust in institutions since 2000. Its 2022 report, which found that mistrust is now “the default sentiment of society”, recorded a tendency for trust in institutions such as government or the media to collapse .
While it’s easy to downplay Trump’s nihilistic threat, it’s much harder to grapple with the reality that allowed him to succeed. After allowing inequality to worsen for decades, those with their hands on the weapons of American democracy suddenly found the will and drive to send thousands of dollars into the bank accounts of every American. American households increased their wealth by $13.5 trillion in 2020, thanks in part to generous government spending to keep the economy going. This might solve one big problem – how people were supposed to pay their rent and mortgages while work was closed – but it introduced a new one: wait, so the government could have done this whenever it wanted?
It soon became clear that even the fortunes of the pandemic were not equal. Due to the unexpected boom in the stock market, more than 70% of the increase in household wealth went to the top 20% of earners. In general, higher-income workers saw their lot improve as a result of extensive economic changes due to COVID. Meanwhile, temporary pandemic-related programs helped reduce U.S. child poverty before being withdrawn in late 2021.
It is possible – sometimes reasonable, even – to conclude that successive US administrations have not considered rising income inequality to be a pressing problem. It is reasonable to conclude that successive US administrations have been asleep at the wheel, content with general economic growth but not paying attention to where that growth was going.
That we have a social language for this is a significant achievement of the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011. Its physical impact may have been brief, but its rhetoric is a reproduction of the official language of inequality. We have the 1 percent and the 99 percent—and by every possible measure, the lives of the 1 percent have been improving, even during a pandemic. In fact, the richest Americans have become immeasurably richer during this period of great upheaval.
If there’s comfort in the vague promises to use the pandemic as an opportunity to rethink society — promises of a “Great Reset,” promises of “Building Back Better” — that comfort is immediately nullified by the reality that those very promises have been hijacked by people who is anti-science, anti-vaccine and anti-lockdown to promote baseless conspiracy theories that go so far as to suggest that the shutdown is deliberately designed to hasten economic collapse.
These claims are not unique to the United States. Canada has been rocked as a convoy of truck drivers and their supporters occupied downtown Ottawa for weeks, demanding the removal of the prime minister. On the other side of the Atlantic, they have popped up in the Netherlands, Germany and France.
It is difficult to imagine how trust in national governments can be improved. This is not, on the face of it, the end of the world. The lights are on and the trains run on time, for the most part. But civic trust, the stuff of nation-building, believing that government is capable of improving one’s life, seems to have declined.
In February, the Republican Party declared that Jan. 6 the uprising and the preceding events leading up to it were “legitimate political debate”. At best, this is a direct attempt to downplay the events of that day. At worst, the Republican statement implies that America’s political institutions are fraudulent and that any form of protest — including rebellion — is valid. This may get the party votes in the upcoming midterm elections, but it will cost more than money: It will cost further deterioration of public confidence.