On the Decline of US Institutions

Rod Dreher:

OK, here’s what I think. Brooks (who’s a friend; our political differences matter not one bit to me) doesn’t seem to grasp the enormity of the collapse of the institutional Republican Party’s authority. There was the Iraq War. And then came the Wall Street crash, which happened on a Republican president’s watch. It’s not fair to blame Bush entirely for that — Washington’s sellout to Wall Street deregulation was truly a uniparty affair; as Bill Clinton — but the Republican Party was supposed to be the party that was more trustworthy on defense and economics. And it imploded. Not only did it implode, but its Washington leadership seemed to learn no lessons from that implosion. It offered no leadership. When the Tea Party emerged out of understandable populist rage, Washington Republicans, bereft of a better idea, hitched their wagons to its star, but went nowhere. The key document to read to understand why the GOP Establishment collapsed in the face of Donald Trump remains Tucker Carlson’s Politico piece from January 2016, when nobody thought Trump had a chance at the nomination, titled, “Donald Trump Is Shocking, Vulgar — And Right”. 

What is entirely missing from the Brooks-Stephens discussion is that the changes in the GOP took place during the Great Awokening. The rise of the illiberal Left — and, crucially, its conquering nearly ever major institution in American life — is the elephant in the room here. While all this was happening, the Republican Party did very damn little to stop it. Not even Trump, for all his rhetoric, made much of a difference. The reason I have a tiny bit of sympathy for Stephens’s position is that I too believe that a lot of the Trumpian populist Storm and Stress was little more than populism in the service of nihilism. Still, Brooks and Stephens lament that conservatives used to venerate institutions, but now hate them. Does it occur to these men that these institutions may not merit deference anymore? Why can’t they see that these institutions are the ones tearing America apart by attacking classical liberal ideas of race and justice, gutting the natural family, and demonizing anyone who dares to question its dogmas. Why should conservative Americans have any faith in these institutions anymore, when the leadership of these institutions broke faith with them a while back? It’s not a surprise that Brooks and Stephens grieve the populism on the Right, because they have made their peace with the Cultural Revolution. They remind me of Catholic institutionalists who can’t understand why so many of the great unwashed in the pews don’t trust the clergy, never mind the fact that the bishops ran the institutional church into the ditch, and the current leadership in Rome is busily deconstructing what’s left of the Church’s authority and heritage.