We live in interesting times, but I’ve often wondered what it would have been like to be alive for the dawn of politics, for our first encounters with one another when we started to make rules that would help hunting and trading and fishing and fornicating and building happen smoothly. I wonder what it would have been like to be there for the birth of our first institutions, “a custom, practice, or law that is accepted and used by many people,” as Merriam-Webster would have it. Marriage, government, religion, banks — these are the great sandstone blocks of rule and repetition upon which towering civilizations are built.
And yet in the year 2016, most members of the American civilization don’t trust that the building blocks are sound. According to Gallup, Americans’ average confidence in 14 institutions is at only 32 percent. It is perhaps no coincidence that the country just elected Donald Trump to be president, choosing a Washington outsider with no experience in politics who ran on a platform of basically doing everything differently from how it’s being done now.
Trump’s victory is due to many factors, but his campaign messaging was undeniably in tune with a note of fundamental disillusionment that has been played by the American public for a decade. Starting around 2007, confidence in institutions cratered, due in no small part to the worldwide financial crisis. In 2006, 49 percent of Americans had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in banks. By the next year it was only 41 percent, and in 2016 that number is a mere 27 percent.