Modern liberalism amplifies these hopes, understandably responding to the rising complexity of the world by advocating for the creation of an administrative state made up of experts who can devise and implement complicated policies designed to keep citizens safe and healthy, to smooth the working of the economy, and to help allocate social goods fairly and efficiently. Modern America might not have the rule of philosopher kings, but (once again, in theory) it has the next best thing: institutions acting as impartially and justly as possible.

Through the middle decades of the 20th century, this is how most Americans viewed the country and its government. The considerable ideological overlap of the two parties together with high levels of social trust and strong deference to institutions of the establishment (very much including a consensus-reinforcing news media) bolstered the sense that the American government genuinely aimed to achieve the common good.

But not anymore. The Vietnam War, the civil rights struggle, the resulting ideological sorting of the two parties, Watergate, the rise of the conservative movement and a right-wing media counter-establishment, 9/11, the debacle of the Iraq War, the de-industrialization of the American economy, the financial crisis of 2008 — the consensus that marked American politics in the decades following the Second World War has absorbed blow after blow in recent decades and now it has finally crumbled.