No one believes that the IRS or the FBI is above reproach. No one seriously believes that the editors of the New York Times would have treated a President Hillary Clinton and a President Donald Trump in the same way. (One likewise wonders what Fox News would have made of partially documented claims that President Bill Clinton had paid $130,000 in hush money to a porn star who says she had an affair with him.) President Obama’s so-called scandal-free administration was in fact rife with abuses of power, from the IRS to the ATF to the EPA to the NLRB. Trump may sometimes attack our institutions without good cause; the Obama administration gave critics good cause to attack our institutions.
We have not yet reached the point of no return, but the diminishing faith in our institutions — the media, the government, law enforcement, the universities, and more — is not the result of Donald Trump’s wounded egomania or talk-radio screeds against the mainstream media and the “deep state.” (Some of those are amusingly daft: Sean Hannity lamented that the mainstream media was sure to ignore a certain story while he was reading aloud on the radio the text of an Associated Press report about that very story — which of course is how he knew about it in the first place.) Yes, conspiracy theories are to be resisted and ridiculed, and the institutions that make possible our free society are to be cherished. But they need not be cherished blindly. In fact, it is essential that we do the opposite, that we keep them under close and aggressive oversight — conducted both by government institutions and by the press — and that we weed out corruption, self-dealing, and political abuses where we find them.
It isn’t up to Donald Trump to see to the FBI’s reputation if the FBI will not see to it itself.