Amid all the post-election “how the hell did we get here” analysis, a lot of which has focused squarely and rightly on the myriad failures of the Democratic Party, another piece of the puzzle has gotten lost a bit, and that has to do with what Donald Trump represented to a lot of voters–a vote against “the establishment.” We live at a time when, across the board, confidence in public institutions is as low as it’s been in my lifetime, and that’s why everybody who runs for federal office tries to portray himself or herself as an “outsider” even when that claim is laughably absurd. The allure of the “outsider” candidate is simply too powerful…so powerful that the imprimatur helped Trump, a man manifestly unqualified to be president who’s not even really an “outsider,” get elected anyway. This lack of confidence in public institutions is problematic in its own right, regardless of how the election shook out, but it’s become more acute now that it’s helped bring us President Trump.
Why is confidence in public institutions so low? Well, to be sure, decades of right-wing rhetoric about “the liberal media” and how “evil” government is have contributed quite a bit, particularly as Democratic Party elites have preferred to hide from that debate rather than engage with it. But particularly now, after the Iraq War and the housing crash among other things, a big part of the reason why confidence in public institutions is so low is that our public institutions simply don’t deserve our confidence. Writing in Foreign Policy, Sarah Chayes, a Carnegie Endowment scholar who’s written on corruption and its impacts around the world, offers an absolutely merciless and well-deserved critique of American corruption and the role it played in this election: Continue reading