The Right’s indictment of “elite consensus” is on solid ground in that it was progressives who in the postwar era captured and perverted the consensus-producing institutions: the newspapers and other media, the universities and other educational institutions, the courts (partly reversing that has been one of the Right’s critical domestic political victories in this generation), etc. Of course it is possible to overstate the case or to present the case in unfair terms, but the diminished credibility of the major news media, the courts, the political professionals, and the academics is not the result of histrionic right-wing criticism. It is the result of shoddy work by the people entrusted with the care and development of those institutions, of corruption and intellectual dishonesty at the highest levels filtering down to high-school history classrooms.

It is hardly surprising that, as we have seen in recent weeks, the two major tribes of American life cannot achieve widespread consent to a policy consensus during a time of acute national emergency — because there is no consensus about the facts of the case, which is itself the result of there being no consensus about who it is we can trust to document and adjudicate those facts. The falling dominoes of institutional failure and intellectual malfeasance have left standing very little of the institutional credibility we need to develop and implement useful and necessary public policies. The dangers and harm resulting from that are obvious even to a fringe libertarian like me. I do not want government to do very much, but I want government to do the things that we need it to do, and to do them effectively.

With the economy cratering, unemployment at unthinkable highs, tens of thousands dead and thousands more to die, it is almost impossible to write this, but: We are lucky that this epidemic is not a great deal worse than it is, because we are not ready for it and do not seem to have the capacity to get ourselves ready for it.