On the one hand, it is a deeply cynical, destructive and indeed existential argument. On the other hand, very People bought it. The good news is that Trump is not the current president. The bad news is that on his way out, he dealt a fatal blow to those institutions when he encouraged supporters to “fight like hell” and march on the Capitol. Sure enough, the system caught on to Trump’s drama and denied it. But spending is deeply unsettling, a political arena that has yet to fully contend with the image of a president tarnishing the system. In a democracy governed by unwritten norms, setting 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?
A more immediate question for American democracy is: Why did it? More Will people vote for Donald Trump more in 2020 than in 2016? Of course he didn’t miss the news cycle of his entire presidency. It is impossible to avoid systematically subverting the institutions on which governments rely. So could they have bought the story that institutions are unredeemable? Confirmed his presidency something About the decay of common social trust?
Consider the Edelman Trust Barometer. The Public Relations Institute has conducted an annual global survey measuring public trust in organizations since 2000. Its 2022 report found that mistrust is now “society’s default emotion”, documenting a declining trend in trust in institutions such as government or the media.
While it’s easy to dismiss Trump’s crass nihilistic threat, it’s much harder to grapple with the realities that enabled him to succeed. After decades of worsening inequality, those with their hands on the levers of American democracy suddenly found themselves willing to send thousands of dollars into the bank accounts of every American. US households increased their wealth by $13.5 trillion in 2020, thanks to generous government spending to keep the economy afloat. It may have solved one big problem — how people were supposed to pay their rent and mortgages when jobs closed — but it introduced a new one: wait, So could the government have done this at any time?
It soon became clear that the gains from epidemic wealth were not equal. Because of the unexpected stock market boom, more than 70% of the increase in household wealth went to the top 20% of income earners. In general, workers with higher incomes saw their lot improve due to the wider economic changes of Covid. Meanwhile, temporary pandemic assistance programs helped reduce child poverty in the US at the end of 2021.
It is possible – sometimes rational, even – to conclude that successive American governments have not considered widening income inequality an urgent problem. It is logical to conclude that successive American governments have been asleep at the wheel, content with general economic growth without paying attention to where growth is going.
A meaningful success of the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011 is that we have a social language for this. Its physical impact may be small, but its rhetoric is a reimagining of the public language of inequality. We have the 1 percent and the 99 percent — and by every imaginable metric, the lives of the 1 percent are getting better, Even during a global pandemic. Indeed, during this period of great revolution, the wealthiest Americans became unimaginably wealthy.
If there is comfort in vague promises to use the pandemic as an opportunity to rethink society — pledges for a “Great Reset,” vows to “build back better” — the comfort is quickly canceled out by reality. Pledges have been hijacked by anti-science, anti-vaccine, anti-lockdown people to propound baseless conspiracy theories to the point that lockdowns are deliberately designed to accelerate economic collapse.
These rights are not unique to the US. The tremors occurred in Canada, where a convoy of truckers and their supporters occupied downtown Ottawa for weeks and demanded 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 restored. It’s not the apocalypse it seems. The lights are on and the trains run on time, for the most part. But civic faith, the stuff of nation-building, believing that governments are capable of improving one’s life, seems bleak.
In February, the Republican Party declared that the January 6 uprising and the previous events leading up to it were “legitimate political speech”. At best, this is a direct attempt to minimize the events of that day. Worse, the Republicans’ declaration suggests that US political institutions are fraudulent and that any form of protest – including rebellion – is valid. This may gain the party votes in the upcoming midterm elections, but it will cost more than money: it will come at the price of a further deterioration in public trust.