How Did Americans Lose Faith in Everything?

Our institutions lost the capacity to mold character and have become platforms for performance instead.

Comments: 214

  1. In this excellent column, the military is credited with being the only institution successfully 'molding' people to meet standards and uphold principles. That looks correct! But why? The path forward is obviously not to militarize other institutions. What, then, is the factor that causes the military to succeed when other institutions don't? Is it about money? Is it authoritarian rule (which the military has, in a certain way)? Is it community (brothers in arms, joint missions)? Tell us more, please.

  2. @99Percent The military is necessary and good for one thIng: conducting war. As soon as you “trust it” for creating character or for some kind of higher moral development or a better environment you are looking for big time trouble. It is a top down, authoritarian organization and one in which the questioning of that authority is forbidden because it is a threat to the whole structure. Democracy, on the other hand, needs to be constantly challenging “those in authority” because the end goal is justice — not simply peace.

  3. @99Percent Parents and schools used to do that. The shift to the idea that children should just be themselves, rather than using discipline, standards and principles to help them mold themselves, was disastrous. Imagine the military (or a football coach or the DMV for that matter) telling people, "Just be yourself."

  4. @B. Rothman Thank you. Authoritarianism is our very big problem at the moment. "Character" is more context-dependent than we individualists like to think. It is not that institutions so much "build character" but that they shape the actions of the people in their domain and lead them to expect other institutions to be the same.

  5. In so many of the cases cited, the institution has exploited the individual, offered no promise or even reasonable expectation of loyalty to the person or continuity in life, let alone possible ascendancy, and in general, treats that person as a cost or problem, not as an asset. Then they hire Authorities and Blue Ribbon Panels and Enterprise Institutes to "study" how "These Americans" could respond with "then I'll look out for myself."

  6. I don't know too much about Yuval Levin's ideas, but one reason Americans have lost faith, neglected the importance of character, and become excessively individualistic is our runamok market economy. Market economies are useful when applied to trade, but we have allowed the ruthless logic of market competition to govern nearly every aspect of American life. Conservatives have for decades bemoaned Americans' declining values, criticizing everything from divorce rates to rap lyrics, but seldom seem to criticize our market economy. It would be nice if Mr. Levin and his colleagues at the American Enterprise Institute would acknowledge that that America's capitalist free-for-all has in many ways contributed to the social and cultural phenomena that they lament.

  7. @Chris Rasmussen ...I wish people who criticize the "market economy" would recognize the difference between short term profits and long term gains. It is not so much the "market economy" that is a problem, but rather the horizon. It called greed.

  8. @Chris Rasmussen Thanks for your comment. The market economy fervor has also destroyed America's informal institutions, which contributed most of our social capital: families torn apart because of work-life stress; neighborhoods chopped apart by auto-dominated commerce; free, informal meeting places replaced by those that make money (often under the table) for local politicians; common civility and conversation disrupted by tech; and so forth.....ad nauseum. And the ideology of endless economic "growth" has driven the dangerous and immoral ecocide. See: The great good place, by Ray Oldenburg and the well-known work of Robert Putnam and Jane Jacobs.

  9. @Chris Rasmussen As an addendum to your comment I would like to add that to build that market economy, Republicans have intentionally, and knowingly I would argue, destroyed the institutions of which we are speaking. Look at what they have done to teachers/education so as to privatize schools and enable a 7B industry which supports them. Look at the destruction of unions which gave workers a collective voice. Look at our national parks so as to give more power to private logging groups, grazing rights, mineral rights, etc. Look at the growth of hospitals as industry in allowing them to own "stables" of physicians, PTs, other ancillary professions who can no longer compete independently and no longer have real ownership in their professions. The list goes on. AEI could study a lot of things, IF only it were more interested in truth than ideology.

  10. Let's not forget the 40-year, intentional propaganda campaign of right-wing propaganda organs (e.g., radio talk shows, Fox ) to delegitimize government, public education, fact-based new coverage - any institution that could exercise countervailing power or influence to the unchecked growth the super-wealthy and the consequent division of the country into the citizens of the gated community and the underclass, which is the rest of us.

  11. @rungus I was thinking the same thing when reading this. Conservative media bought with the big money of the Koch's and Murdoch. At FOX Vegetables and fruit in children's schools lunches are too much government, Unfair tax cuts to the top 1%, which are increasing disparity, not delivering jobs or even increased growth but are creating crushing deficits, are just fine. At FOX and Friends magic hearsay and religion trump facts, reality and science.

  12. @rungus I agree that the right wing billionaire and corporate funded campaign is partly to blame- going back to attacks on the New Deal and codified in the Nixon administration era "Powell Memo". But the institutions themselves Institutions have betrayed their mission and the people. To understand this history, read former NY Times reporter Chris Hedges' book: "Death of the Liberal Class"

  13. @rungus 100% agree with delegitimizing the federal government and leaving issues to the states. Some of the Southern states have a large amount of children living in poverty with poor schools. Very few kids will make it out of these situations. And the underclass will swell in the future.

  14. The great irony of social media is that it alienates everyone. Everything it seems is centered around two letters m and e. Look no further then the selfie button on your phone and how that has become an indicator of what is a far important subject to photograph- me. Everything it seems is about me nowadays and how I am perceived to my friends.

  15. @Ted Siebert It's called "Me first, Me only, Me now." and it first made its ugly appearance in the Reagan years even before social media.

  16. I believe I have an explanation for what has happened to institutions and the individuals who operate within and around them: in the past few decades, we have ceased to be citizens or a society and have become consumers in an economy. We are atomized, concerned with our own individual choices -- usually between competing brands -- and have lost all sense of the common good. The driving force behind this transition has been marketing, a powerful, sophisticated science underwritten by billions of dollars of focused research designed to manipulate the human psyche at its deepest levels. Its main effect has been to condition us to feel, rather than to think -- to the point where most of us don't know the difference. Institutions arose from the work of citizens intent on shaping society according to their ideologies and principles. They have little relevance to consumers motivated by their feelings about brands. Fewer and fewer people feel that it's worth the effort to sustain these fossils of a bygone time.

  17. @Matthew Hughes All true. But in addition to seeing ourselves as consumers we also are being taught to see ourselves as competitors trying to elevate our brands as suppliers of labor and as winners of "likes." In all ways we are learning to not see ourselves as members of institutions, but rather as competitors in a cut-throat game.

  18. @Matthew Hughes Well said. In addition, the Corporate elites, and the uber wealthy know that money corrupts, thus Washington DC is flooded with corporate lobbyists buying influence, which transfers into more power for them, and logically, more money. If this doesn't change, things will continue to worsen for the middle, and working classes, and the poor.

  19. @Matthew Hughes Spot on. I've said the same thing about politics and political consultants for years. Those consultants and their researchers, spend every moment or every day trying to parse consumer (voter) mentality and then shift it to suit their needs. With all that time and money and yes, even the dreaded "science" behind it, the average citizen has no idea just how they are being manipulated. We don't stand a chance.

  20. "The military is the most conspicuous exception and also the most unabashedly formative of our national institutions — molding men and women who clearly take a standard of behavior and responsibility seriously." This sentence brought to mind the account that just was published of Trump's meeting in the Pentagon with cabinet officials and military leadership, in which Trump berated our military leadership in the most vile terms. Trump doesn't just neglect the moral heart of our institutions. He actively tries to destroy it in his never ending project of self-aggrandizement. On another topic: It is distressing that so much of the presidential campaign has been about candidates boasting about all the things they can and will do without congressional authorization. I'd much rather see a campaign centered on renewal of all our institutions.

  21. @LewisPG Alas, too often the military teaches its men and women to see the world in black and white. I don’t trust the military — not after all the torture in Iraq. In fact as a citizen, I felt betrayed by the American high command when it wouldn’t take responsibility for the misdeeds of its troops.

  22. Yesterday Moscow Mitch took a solemn oath to render an impartial judgment and to uphold the Constitution. And yet he has already stated that does not intend to be an impartial juror and is coordinating with the Trump Administration. Here we have the majority leader of the Senate for whom an oath clearly means nothing. What are you going to do?

  23. @W.A. Spitzer - Republicans use to lie and pretend that they were impartial or that they cared about the whole country. Now, taking a cue from Trump, they openly admit the are partisan and openly admit that they are lying because they see that there is absolutely no real consequences for doing this (based on Trump's actions). It is up to us, the voters, to provide consequences by voting McConnell and Trump and all the other dishonest Republicans and, yes, that includes some Democrats as well, out of office.

  24. @KR - We voters do not have much of an opportunity to provide consequences for the Republicans who betray this country. That's because they have suppressed the votes of people who oppose them, via voter ID laws, gerrymandering, limiting voting hours and polling places, and purging voters. Not to mention that the irrational Electoral College may again proclaim the loser to be the winner. Voters can provide consequences only in a democracy, and the United States hardly deserves that name.

  25. @W.A. Spitzer Exactly. Our leaders -- be they in business, government or religion -- have demonstrated that having a moral code is obsolete. No wonder we are cynical.

  26. I think that everything has become politicized and that includes the MSM. It seems as well that obtaining one’s “15 minutes of fame” has become the overriding aim of far too many. When everyone has a Twitter feed and a YouTube channel not to mention a blog, Instagram account and all the rest, life and interactions with others becomes just a means to garner “likes” and followers. Essentially, our lives have become shallow the more we publicize them to others. Add to this the breakdown of the American family, huge number of children born outside of marriage, stress due to both parents working so many hours, lack of community social interactions and far too many glued to their Netflix, phones, Facebook feed and video games. Not to leave out the destruction of muck of “downtowns” and local businesses, replaced by the mall, big box stores and online shopping.

  27. @Greenie Half of the society still can tell right from wrong and part of the MSM still reports how it is. This half just needs to stay vigilant and make sure they are not distracted when it is important

  28. Rational voices like this appear increasingly to be those voices calling out in the wilderness.

  29. "And asking such questions is one thing we all can do to take on the complicated social crisis we are living through and begin to rebuild the bonds of trust essential for a free society." Fair. I would agree that you've identified the core problem of our society: People failing (or, to speak more plainly, refusing) to act with integrity. But the real problem is the people who refuse to ask such questions and, indeed, actively ignore them in favor of their own self-interest. These are most often the people who hold and wield the actual power. What do we do about them?

  30. Mainstream American society raises virtually every child to believe that it is the demigod at the center of its own special universe. Add to this our intrinsic amorality, worship of the almighty dollar, and penchant for nihilism, often dressed up in the hypocrisy of Sunday morning Christianity, and it's not hard to see why we've lost most of our cohesion and sense of place. In many respects, what's most strange about the rise of Donald Trump is how long it took someone like him to become our president. We've been trending this way for decades. Social media merely amplified it. We live, breathe, eat, and love on a glorious Earth which we have thankfully not yet poisoned completely. She can still be resuscitated and made whole again if we are somehow able to evolve, to realize the interconnectedness of all, to allow grace and awe back in to our thoughts and actions. But we're still stuck in the grotesqueness of the 1980s, seemingly unwilling or unable to move past it. Surely that era can't last forever. Can it?

  31. @corvid Reaganism and hip hop were both born in the 1980s and, unfortunately, neither shows any signs of dying.

  32. Although officially nonpartisan, AEI is “associated with conservatism and neoconservatism, with democratic capitalism, limited government and private enterprise.” That’s a short summary of the Wikipedia description. My education taught me to look at the background of the person or organization expounding an idea and only then to judge its validity. There may a lot of truth in this column but it strikes me as ironic that the individualism that is behind so much of the criticism here is exactly the kind of individualism that has been propounded by AEI for its entire existence. It would seem to me that the military is not the kind of solution I want in my democracy even if its apparent unity of opinion is a soothing idea in this fractious time. A better idea might be getting capital out of politics and personal ethics, morality and Truth (instead of marketing and ratings) back in.

  33. @B. Rothman The military in the US is unique among nations. Every officer learns that "Civilian leadership" is the guiding force of the military. That's one of the reasons there has never been a military coup. Officers are trained from the start that the ultimate boss is not the commanding general, but the President of the US. It's a very big deal. Add to that, the military is no longer a draft run organization. It's volunteer. That excludes, to a degree, a large number of people who shouldn't be in the military, and our training is excellent.

  34. @B. Rothman Great comment: I had the same response, but couldn't have articulated it as powerfully and succinctly as you did. (AEI raises my blood pressure too high to think straight.)

  35. @B. Rothman, I also thought there was an exception to his military example: the Seals. See the Onion headline: "Navy Forms Elite New Seal Team To Write Best-Selling Tell-All Books." Yes, this is difficult work and I'm grateful someone does it but many of these guys have cashed in almost immediately after leaving service and sometimes without proper vetting of their creative output.

  36. While I think Mr. Levin makes some useful points, the more obvious explanation for the loss of faith in our institutions is the multiple betrayals of the general public by said institutions. We now live in a society where you can longer trust your employer, your broker, your lawyer, or your government. You can’t even trust your priests anymore. There are those of us who think there is no salvaging these institutions at this point and that we need to start again from scratch with new ones. The NGO sector may offer some useful models.

  37. Wouldn’t it be ironic if part of the reason for the breakdown in institutions and trust was an increase in publication and knowledge of how the institutions have been misusing and taking advantage of people all along? For example, the issue of sexual abuse by priests has been cited; I am sure that has been happening as long as there were priests, but what has changed is the ability to cover it up.

  38. @Patrick McAllister Well said.

  39. Though the author describes some very interesting perspectives on how to observe our role through our 'institutions', I'm left with more questions than answers. I think the American dream, the melting pot of so many cultures will need to 'cook' for a few more hundred years to overcome the divisiveness still apparent throughout. Religious, educational and public institutions will all have to come together for a common cause and establish a meaningful criteria to live by. That common cause may take generations to weave into our consciousness (unless our love for the future of our planet becomes that cause).

  40. We had it. This was a really great place to live for a while. KGB psy-ops and malign neglect of our own population, in favor of globalization profits and oligarchic dominance, have set us all against one another, dispirited and broke.

  41. I suggest that a significant reason for the declining integrity of our institutions is the ability of those within them to monetize themselves now in ways that were never possible before. Physicians, academics, lawyers, sportsmen and women, journalists and many others can now make large sums of money, in some cases fortunes, by selling themselves outside of the restraints of the institutions in which they developed. For example: a scientist who turns to climate change denial can quickly earn millions; a historian who distorts and infantializes his studies to appeal to one cohort or another can pocket more in a year than he would in a lifetime in academia; a junior executive will zoom up the promotion ladder by coming up with a scheme to pick the pockets of his company's customers. We see examples of this all the time - people unable to resist the vast sums of money they'll get for schilling this product or pandering to that group, distorting this evidence or lying about that competitor. There's no simple cure for this problem in a free society. The only thing that will do is the hard work of systematically asking cui-bono everytime someone is trying to influence you.

  42. This is the time for those institutions to step and prove their validity. It's all a massive test that the world, not just the States, is facing.

  43. Youth is consumed with being popular and seen, joining the right crew, feeling good about one's self. With maturity, things like respect and responsibility move in and fill those spaces, and institutions that felt like obstacles and shackles in youth become pillars and productive platforms. At least, that was the natural evolution for society until recently. Today, youthful self-indulgence tends to carry on well into adulthood, and for an increasing percent of the population, forever. We even elected such a person President. That's how acceptable it's become. The obsession with living young is unfortunately part of the American culture, and the consequences aren't pretty, at all.

  44. This is a disingenuous and hypocritical essay, blaming the victim of our corrupted institutions (individual citizens) for allegedly "using" them for our own good. I felt growing indignation as I read it, and was not surprised, once I'd finished it, to learn that the author hails from the American Enterprise Institute. In the big picture, are we here to serve institutions, or are institutions made to serve us all in our pursuit of our individual freedom and happiness? I had thought it was the latter. For what it's worth, I do ask the questions that the author poses: are my actions within my institution consistent with my role in society? Ironically and bitterly, the answers that came back to me recently were "no." The orders that I received from my superiors in my university had been forcing me to condense the rigorous pursuit of knowledge into merely following orders, from expanding the minds of my students to cultivating perfect corporate stooges. The university's administration would change the curricula daily, depending on what skills their "industry liaisons" deemed most useful. I was micromanaged on how to teach science by MBAs with no scientific training. So, I left that university. Perhaps our institutions are failing because they have been invaded by people who do not care about the institution's purpose, but who are attempting to reign all institutions into subservience to a global authoritarian plutocracy. At least I still have faith in science.

  45. @noke The bean counters and their standardized tests and their legions of "administrators" have distorted the mission of higher education and many other fields that used to be part of our common good--like public libraries and medicine. It's a bottom line world that crushes greater good people.

  46. @noke Strange reply, blaming the institution when the perpetrator is not the form of the institution but individuals who have given up on the institution’s form. Want that to change? Don’t quit. Do something about it.

  47. @noke This is a good point, but generally the root of the problem has been the anti-tax people who have destroyed the foundations of public higher education through decades of tax cuts. An institution I am familiar with had about 90% state and federal base funding in the seventies (and very low affordable tuition), but today is down to about 15% state and fed funding and very high tuition. Starving the universities has led them to chase money and give in to the demands of businesses to train their employees for them.

  48. This is an important essay. Individual decisions to honor rules of conduct established by various institutions over generations build trust in those institutions. Individual decisions to ignore those rules have the opposite effect. For example, in journalism, there are ethical standards that have been established so that readers can trust the integrity of news reports. Individuals have repeatedly chosen to ignore well established rules regarding the reporting of news, as distinct from opinion. Confidence in the institution and the professionals involved plummets. This is nothing less than a default by individuals in their professional integrity. Individual decisions to maintain and respect the standards of professional integrity can restore confidence in institutions. Otherwise the crisis in confidence will continue and worsen. Each institution and the individuals responsible must strengthen awareness of standards of conduct and improve peer enforcement of those standards. For example, journalists must develop much stronger mechanisms for publicly identifying serial abusers of established journalistic standards.

  49. @M Philip Wid Equally problematic is the intentional undermining of journalists who follow those rules of conduct and are attacked as a result. Politicians and journalists, primarily from the right but it does happen from the left, devote much of their time undermining journalists that fail to support a particular political line. How can people keep faith when they're bombarded with propaganda to disbelieve a journalist regardless of their effort to uphold ethical journalistic standards?

  50. The major aspect that is missed in this column? Income inequality. Greater income disparity tends to make societies less democratic, for its citizens to have less trust in each and it weakens institutions —all ills that are mentioned here.

  51. The question is not what needs to be done but how to do it (in reality). There’s plenty of accurate diagnoses about what’s wrong and what needs to be done.

  52. Unfortunately, Mr. Levin is just another voice in the wilderness hacking at the branches and disregarding the root of the issue. And that root is Story. All institutions—political, religious, economic, and cultural—are built on stories that serve as received truth upon which an edifice is constructed. Free-Market Capitalism, Democracy, the Abrahamic religions, Communism, Socialism, and the eternal continuance of an incorruptible soul are all just stories. And stories are myths—incarnate temporal patterns that deliver higher order truth. The problem we face today is the guardians of our stories who, by the corruption of their lives, clearly reveal their disbelief in the story they supposedly represent. By now it is more than obvious that our President does not believe in Democracy or the rule of law. Likewise, it is abundantly clear that Wall Street and the big banks are predators masquerading as capitalists, and Evangelical Christian leaders are more interested in political power than following the teachings of Jesus. We have entered the territory of Thomas Kuhn’s “Paradigm Shift”. This will issue in a revolutionary bifurcation that must clear away the old irrationality before the new thing can emerge.

  53. Yuval carefully walks around the fact that the unregulated free market capitalism his organization lobbies for, is in fact the cause of this disfunction. Neo liberal thought, brought to us by thousands of well-funded organizations like the AEI, have taught us that, in the words of Thatcher, "There is no society, there is only individuals". Everyone is on his own, and success in the "market" (ie, money), is the only important measure. Should it be a surprise that institutional behavior has been corrupted? After all, everyone is just in it for themselves.

  54. @pnwgal Thanks, I was going to write something pretty similar about: the individualism and magic of the market logic not supporting the protection of communs or the need for trust and commun purpose. Plus, people growing up being marketed to every minute of the day tend to develop an healthy level of skepticism with institutions messaging.

  55. @pnwgal Thank you for this! Un-ameliorated capitalism has brought us severe income inequality which in turn, causes the 99% to question the entire framework of our society. A steady corrosion of faith in our institutions is unavoidable.

  56. @pnwgal Observation about economic changes are spot on. In a winner take all economy, the incentive to put yourself above the institution grows by the day. Everyone has to have their own personal brand so they can move onward and upward to the next gig, in part because you can't count on your existing institution to protect you if things turn down. And what in the bad old days (1) was considered over-the-top grand standing, is now admired and emulated. See Donald Trump and Twitter. (1) In the 1980s, the NYC tabloids at one point used to discuss the "good Trumps", meaning the president's sister and bother, vs. the "bad Trumps", meaning The Donald and Ivana.

  57. I think there was always an unsavory character within some institutions and that its naive to think otherwise. Now with the advent of the information age one cannot escape the lies, scandals and corruption as they are exposed and headlined on a regular basis. The unsung hero’s are the majority who take their positions very seriously within our institutions. However their integrities don’t improve ratings or increase clicks unless they are a topic of discussion before an impeachment hearing.

  58. Didn't Trump try and change the military with his nonsense? Anyway, Trump is doing "stand up" (and not very good) while the country suffers and the world with it. I agree with this essay. Everyone has to shine and have a brand with no thought as to the improvement of people's lives.

  59. @Sue Consider that at the same time Trump was scheming to get us into war, he was also raiding the military budget for billions of dollars to pay for his pet wall project.

  60. I agree with Mr Levin that, without trusted institutions, we are left to trust the tribal chieftans who best trigger our emotions and biases. But I disagree with Levin's key assumption - that the recent abuses of power are no different than the past.  Before, an institution could overwhelm an accusation of corruption by projecting perfection through Super Bowl ads, Sunday sermons, headlines on the nightly news, and State of the Union speeches. Today, a muckracker with a phone can bring down the most powerful people and organizations. They expose in ways that are fast, transparent, grassroots, and visceral. They are harder to deny and dismiss using the 20th century tactic - projecting perfection. The solution is not to ask individuals to be team players and bow down to corrupt institutions. It's to reform the institutions so they earn the trust of the people. What institutions will emerge to withstand the radical transparency and grassroots power of the 21st century?

  61. Wasn't it the Republicans who promoted rugged individualism instead of the common good? I see a lot of conservative commentators in this and other media quote Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher as if they were divine wisdom from on high, and the gist is always that the individual has no responsibility toward the larger society, I think Mr. Levin needs to look in the mirror before bewailing the loss of social cohesion in this country.

  62. This article proposes a cure but doesn't really diagnose the disease. It discusses a symptom of the disease, people using the institution to promote themselves, but does not explain why this is a new problem. How is this different from the corruption the author rightly says is nothing new? Haven't people always sought to use institutions for self promotion? I think the author's prescription is a sound one but so is my doctor telling me to get more exercise when I report general poor health. If I've got cancer taking more walks isn't going to save me. If I'm just worn down and overstressed maybe it will.

  63. The new wave of cynicism began with that botched up presidential election in 2000. Remember it was the election that Al Gore should have won easily until fate intervened? Third party candidate Ralph Nader siphoned off enough progressive votes to help deprive Al Gore the keys to the White House. In addition there were those malfunctioning butterfly ballots in a couple of Florida districts which spelled doom for Gore. Long story short Gore lost to the candidate who should have lost, George W Bush. The rest is history. Nothing has gone right for America since that illl fated election.

  64. @sharon5101 I wish people, after seeing the failure of our voting system in 2000, would learn to advocate for ranked choice voting, or any system that would take away the spoiler effect of third party candidates. We all see the issue, and it exists in every election - yet progress is glacial.

  65. The wrong candidate always wins whenever a third party get involved in an election. Elections have consequences.

  66. @sharon5101 Thank you for your comment.

  67. This hits the nail on the head: "Given my role here, how should I behave?" I'm going to practice this guidance, and suggest others do as well. Thanks for an excellent article.

  68. Sometimes you can get a glimpse into the character of a country's culture by looking at the motto of that country, for example: Germany's motto is "Unity and Justice and Freedom," France's is "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," Italy's is: "...a democratic republic founded on labor," and finally, the US's official motto is "in God we trust," adopted in 1956 during the Eisenhower administration, supplanting the original, unofficial motto of "E Pluribus Unum," or "out of many, one." Without commenting on the appropriateness of the current official motto, perhaps it is fitting, under the Trump administration to update the official motto to one more suited to our times, such as "It's all about the money," "let the money trickle down to the people," or "the end justifies the means," or even "the law is just a tool in the hands of the wealthy and powerful." Might as well call a spade a spade.

  69. @GMR We need to go back to the original motto. Our fractured society demonstrates why striving for a common purpose is central to our system of democracy. Of course the "in God we Trust" really only referred to a certain view of "God" -and assumed everyone believes in one.

  70. @GMR ....more approprate for today's gop, consevative "christian" and busness leaders, "Greed is good, gluttony is better"

  71. @GMR Our first motto was “Don’t Tread on Me”.

  72. "Or consider the academy, which is valued for its emphasis on the pursuit of truth through learning and teaching but which now too often serves as a stage for political morality plays enacted precisely by abjuring both." Or consider Mr. Levin, who smears "the academy" WITHOUT OFFERING EVEN A SINGLE QUOTE from a member of "the academy", WITHOUT GIVING EVEN A SINGLE EXAMPLE of a "political morality play". I can't even figure out what he means by a "political morality play". Mr. Levin's claim is so vague that I can't understand what upsets him so deeply.

  73. @Dan Styer Dan, as someone who spent a career in 'the academy" I have watched this play out with great sadness. Anyone associated with academics should not need examples to see the truth here.

  74. Mr. Levin nicely frames the issue from the perspective of the individual: what can I do within the particular institutional framework in which I am functioning to strengthen that institution and, thereby, give it greater value and meaning for society in general. Unfortunately, that's not the way our society works, thanks to media in general and advertising as a specific case. The radical increase in information has fundamentally changed our relationship to institutions, be they as complex as governments or as simple as nuclear families. Media has literally blasted these apart, atomized them. The only meaningful way to act - to exist - in this environment is through branding, to stand out solidly as an identifiable thing in the swirling mass of data that encompasses us. To do otherwise makes you an anachronism.

  75. Anachronisms, unite! Or at least, step out of the swirl.

  76. I would say not that institutions have failed us. although of course they have, but that in the first instance the individuals we have nurtured have corrupted the institutions by elevating their private morality and self interest over the public good. It is the curse of individualism, where everyone is special and unique, brilliant and important, that inevitably undermined the social fabric and the institutions supporting it. So now we have a society where we only trust those who think exactly as we do.

  77. This is superlative. We haven’t lost faith in everything. If we had, participation in elections would be very low. We’ve lost hope in particular people and the mechanisms that gave them power. Ranked-choice voting would, in itself, change the game.

  78. @Alix Hoquet Hi Alex, Participation in elections is low. Ranked Choice Voting will be of some benefit, but it is not a panacea. Many more electoral, political, and policy changes are needed to increase voting and the civic engagement it signifies.

  79. The military is not nearly as virtuous as Mr. Levin posits. The military is entrusted with fighting wars and reporting the results of its operations to the President, Congress and the American people. Too often the Generals and Admirals who lead give misleading and false reports to meet the political demands of the politicians rather accurate and truthful reports. It happened in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Colin Powell dishonored himself by giving a misleading and false account of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to gain support for war with Iraq. As a junior officer serving in Vietnam and observing senior officers, I am confident that he never envisioned that he would rise through the ranks to repeat the errors he had observed. The great majority of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines serving their country and fighting the wars "clearly take a standard of behavior and responsibility seriously". They fight gallantly and honorably and every American should find inspiration in their service. It is too bad that the military, as an institution, produces so many Generals and Admirals who abandon that standard of behavior and pander to politicians.

  80. I wouldn't fault just the officer ranks. There are fair number of rank and file soldiers who join the ranks of white supremacists, separatists and gun fanatics after the leaving the military. Luckily they are not the majority, but still too many. We carry on as if every military person wears a halo, but they are just people from the same gene pool as the rest of us. Judge them by what they do and what they support as individuals.

  81. I was raised in the sheltered, suburban optimism of the 1950's. By the early 60's the Civil Rights movement was literally tearing up the countries political maps. in the midst of that, Lyndon Johnson drove us into the cruel, dispiriting Vietnam War, further dividing the country. Nixon followed with the first victorious presidential campaign based on racial backlash: the Southern Strategy. Reagan furthered the cause with Welfare queens diving cadillacs and dangerous Big Black Bucks. As Republicans turned against all forms of social welfare, tying them to racial divisions, the Civil Rights movement spread to Women's Right and Gay Rights. The Iraq war tore the country apart, in much the same way Vietnam had. Through the Obama years, the bubbling racial hatreds waited, patiently. Then, Donald Trump triumphed with his openly racist campaign against every sense of American hope, the very American hope that I had been taught, during the 1950's, in elementary school. Just when it seems that cynicism has invaded every crack and cranny of American life, foolish me, I still treasure that hope and pride in the American Dream. I still believe that we will form a better Union, because our better angels will beat back our demons, yard by yard, in the ageless battle to win the human heart.

  82. @Michael Your letter describes my life and expresses my thoughts exactly. I still dream that better times are possible and that perhaps they could begin after the November election. Maybe sooner.

  83. I hope you are right, Michael.

  84. I am an atheist. I do not need the supernatural. I do need god. The tragedy of humanity is that moral codes have long been controlled by those who believe in the supernatural. I believe in god, but I believe god must be constructed by humanity. Alas, all we have for the enforcement of moral codes are institutions that still pretend the Enlightenment never happened, and which mix up the importance of morality with the existence or nonexistence of a sky-daddy who loves us and must be obeyed. It is long since time for humanity to grow up. We must insist upon moral behavior from one another, and we must recognize that moral behavior cannot be defined for us by those who think there is a mysterious supernatural creature who has dictated rules we must follow. Moral behavior, in many cases, is simple and straightforward, and it is the opposite of the corruption which unregulated capitalism has energized and rewarded over the past fifty years. It is not doing to others what we wouldn't want done to ourselves. It is hard, because we are selfish.

  85. A person can be a beacon of light by demonstrating appropriate behavior in various venues in which they participate. An employee can exhibit ethical behavior in the workplace, a political figure can behave in a way which makes his constituents proud, a clergy member can demonstrate kindness and integrity which others can follow, etc. These ethical behaviors are all positive and we can never have enough. People can be wonderful role models and this is what is lacking in our society. We have lost humility and many only think of one thing, Themselves. We need to go back to the values that made us great people and someone in which others could be proud.

  86. We were told “Greed is good.” The institutions that had, in prior generations, delivered on some obligation to the individual beyond the bottom line - as large as a pension, as small as a turkey at Thanksgiving - turned to a full-throttle devotion to institutional benefit over the individual contributors. The big cheeses took all the cheese. That’s what happened.

  87. "Government is not the solution to our problems, government is the problem." When you have politicians running for office on the platform that government is ruining the country and needs to limited to it's most basic functions, you destroy people's faith in institutions. When Wall Street institutions destroy the economy of the world and no one is held accountable people lose faith in both the institution and the regulators. When one political party no longer acts in good faith in the performance of it's duties, you destroy the faith in that institution. When one party touts "personal responsibility" as an excuse to never use tax payers' money to benefit tax payers you end up with what we have now. I noticed that the Wall Street banks didn't have to take personal responsibility for their failure - the tax payers bailed them out. The people who lost their homes, however, had to accept responsibility for what happened to them.

  88. @Sean Yes, I believe that Reagan quote sums it up nicely. It's not about the government being good or bad, because the government is what Americans collectively strive for it to be. Saying the government is the problem is just totally radical and dangerous.

  89. @Daniel It was a fat lie, and Reagan got away with it.

  90. Good thoughts here-thank you Mr. Levin. I think one thing Mr. Levin leaves out is how open the media is now to publishing sordid stories of corruption and inefficiency (sex too). I'm not blaming the media at all; brutal facts are vital. It's impossible to have blind faith in institutions after the truthful and sordid undersides are exposed by good journalism. The positive side of this is many institutions are more responsive and transparent to their constituents than previously. Of course, many are not and have found new ways to disguise their self-interest or inefficiency. Prior to Vietnam and Watergate I believe that media played the game along with big companies and government. For example prior to the 1970's reporters knew that many cops were routinely corrupt and beating poor suspects; that many politicians were alcoholics, paid for by special interests and sleeping with mistresses; and that Catholic clergy suppressed news about abuse. The medial played along and generally didn't report these secrets in order to keep access to newsmakers. The media also didn't talk honestly about "controversial" and "tawdry" social subjects like domestic violence, persecution of gays, abortion, sexual practices, drug and alcohol abuse, etc.

  91. Mr. Levin, if you're an American, I'm sorry you've lost faith "in everything." I am an American and I have not. We'll do fine. Check back in a few years. And vote.

  92. Your criticism of journalists for attempting to build their own brands is off base. They are merely responding to the reality of the market. When faced with the prospect of never ending downsizing, why should they display loyalty to institutions that won’t display it to them?

  93. @FW It’s not about journalists being loyal towards their employers. It’s a duty to readers to provide complete and accurate information. The attitude for which you advocate leads everyone to look out only for themselves, often at the expense of others, and increases distrust among people. When people leading institutions have this attitude, a breakdown in the trust of institutions results.

  94. @FW That misses the point! The neo-liberal description of human life as personal profit-seeking combined with social media is also killing real journalism. Of course you are right that the institutions show little loyalty either, but responding to the "reality" of the market is the problem, and individuals, including journalists, or academics, or anyone else posting their lives online share the blame with their institutions for the social meltdown.

  95. As a well-known conservative, Mr. Levin is conspicuously silent on the role that libertarianism has played in the devaluation of American institutions. The libertarian wing of the Republican Party has been banging the drum for decades that anything constraining the absolute freedom of the individual to do as he or she pleases is an affront to individual liberty. It’s refreshing to see a conservative voice advocating for the role of institutions, but I think Mr. Levin would do well to address elements within American conservatism that have greatly exacerbated the decline of trust in our institutions.

  96. @Modre Yes. Please, dear reader, address the concern that a cry for small government is a strategy for corporate control of our county!

  97. The institutions have no failed at all, but rather are just openly behaving as they were intended. Business finds more efficient ways to rip you off with more elaborate schemes designed by algorithm. (think in app purchases and rewards points systems that are mysteriously compromised the moment you go to use them.) The government was always about protecting the american aristocracy from the rest of us rabble, now they're just more honest about it. The only thing people want to be anymore is an influencer. Even our last two presidents are influencers more then they are politicians. Their effectiveness as personal branding is a 100% success while as politicans it's far far below. Much like a popular athlete you read about day and night online who is rarely exceptional anymore, or the twitter celeb become musician who implores his fans to game the system to get to number 1 then never makes another song. Everything is a grift, everyone is just an influencer now. Our institutions worked exactly as intended, capitalism displaced everyone, moving them to isolated suburbs before and now displacing everyone in the cities, work forces many of us to move far away for whatever jobs we can have. The guy writing this works for an institution that welcomes and encourages many of these developments. The only thing he really bemoans is that the youth no longer seem enamored with the economic system that makes them sleep in their car.

  98. It's called "duty." With rank comes responsibility. Finally, everywhere you look, we have lost our sense of community. We won't repair in 40 days what it took 40 years to destroy.

  99. Yes it seems that role models are getting harder to come by. Still, if there is a loss of faith, it is for many in this economic model with limited social mobility and the belief than ones kids are likely to be less financially secure than their parents. When people are struggling with multiple jobs, it is hard for them to invest in creating communities. Their main community is through their work. When people have to re-invent themselves multiple times through their work life, investing into the company or institution they work for can feel like an unwise expenditure of energy, so they invest in branding themselves more and more. Looking at examples from the top, clearly sacrifices for the greater goods are rare. So how come what's good for CEOs be framed as "so selfish" of the lowly clerk. Yet, I am not too cynical as I try to do the right thing asking the question what is the moral thing to do. It is a luxury than most cannot afford, at this point of my carrier, I can so I am doing it. I may regret not getting large bonusses or equity grants, or seating in the C-suite latter. Time will be the judge of that. Yet, no one on their death bed ever said "I wished I worked more".

  100. This is wonderful. I would add that the emphasis on personal experience that I am seeing in schools is somehow also sending a message that what the school or experiences do to you is more important that what they are as shared projects, with missions that go beyond each individual. How you can be part of them is less emphasized, how they make you feel, more emphasized.

  101. This article which claims the "institution" of the US military is the "most conspicuous exception" to "the pattern of declining confidence in institutions" appears the same day as Ms. Fugett's heart wrenching evocation of the human cost of America's all wars of choice all military interventions all the time foreign policy of the last 60 years. If any institution deserves to experience "declining confidence" it is America's profit seeking at the cost of million of lives (just for this comment let's treat foreign lives as if they matter) national security military industrial complex. The fact the American people still look at an institution that treats its own people so callously and those of other nations as no more than "dust" is a tribute to the MIC's well honed and funded propaganda efforts. For example, as we learned just last year those "salutes" to our military and constant glorification of the military that occur at America's sports spectacles (NFL and others) arises not out patriotism but a cold commercial transaction between the various sports leagues and the Pentagon. Sadly, the target audience of young impressionable males eat it up. As wiser than we cynical Cold War era Russians used to tell us, "You Americans and we Russians both have propaganda. The only differnce is you believe yours." War is a racket. Taking advantage of young people's desire to be a part of something larger than themselves to get them to kill people in wars of choice is despicable.

  102. I got my values from my parents and my education. That many of our public institutions have abandoned those values hasn’t caused me to do so. We have systemic problems in this country, racism, sexism, homophobia, and a corrupted capitalistic economy that has hijacked our government. The resulting concentration of wealth and income has created widespread economic insecurity and social resentment. I don’t know how this country can turn this around. Germans were forced to at great cost. It shouldn’t be that difficult in a democracy.

  103. Thank you, sir. Thank you for digging into the core of what we, as citizens, and members of our families, churches, social outlets, and professions, should do on an everyday basis to help us become better in all of these roles. It's straightforward, direct, and while simple, not easy. The questions are the same for all of us. The answers, of course, are unique to each of us. We all feel we can be better, the problem is figuring out how. The questions you say we should ask ourselves is an excellent start.

  104. All institutions--especially the religious, the military, the commercial, and the legal––should be subject to constant, critical and rational examination. As has been harshly, but truthfully, said: "The unexamined life is not worth living."

  105. This column is very misguided. If Americans have lost faith in their institutions the reason is quite simple: our institutions have performed very, very badly. The last GOP administration started a war over WMD that never existed. It spent a trillion dollars on that war without achieving anything except to increase the influence of Iran in the region. Congress, which is meant to serve as a check on such reckless and ill-advised actions by the administration, failed completely. The news media also failed in its duty (including this newspaper). The war in Afghanistan, which actually did have something to do with a real threat to our country, was so mismanaged that after almost 20 years the enemy is nowhere near defeated; during all that time, we are told, high officials lied to the American people about "progress" that didn't happen. Meanwhile, both the administration and a Congress controlled by the opposition party sat on their hands while a real estate recession grew into a financial crisis that crashed the economy and blighted millions of lives. Knowing these things, Americans can hardly be blamed for distrusting all of these institutions. If we did not, we would have to be utterly crazy. If our public and private sector leaders cannot protect our country from such man-made disasters, what use are they to us? Answer: no use at all.

  106. @Mrsfenwick : And for the brief time the Dems had any power, all we got was Obamacare. (and the Iran Deal). Americans totally rejected that in the next election and keep on rejecting it.

  107. The left is aggressively social libertarian and will "cancel" anybody who disagrees with them. How can there be a coherent society when we are told that "men can have periods"?

  108. @Amy Creating straw men is dishonest and leads to distrust among people.

  109. I would offer a much simpler explanation of why the military is still a trusted institution: because the highest paid position in the military is only 10 times the lowest paid position. You don't join the military to get fabulously wealthy. The same is true of the other industries and professions that are still trusted: nurses, teachers. These are all institutions that don't have "winner take all" economic structures, where a handful of people at the top can become enormously rich while everyone else competes for scraps. In the private sector, some CEOs are making more than a thousand times what their median worker makes. Lawyers, doctors, professors, Congress, religious leaders: they all have superstars making millions of dollars. And any time you have big money in play, corruption and dirty dealing will be in play. Any system that allocates rewards in such an extreme fashion creates terrible incentives to cheat and to put one's own interests ahead of the institution as a whole. This slippery somewhat metaphysical analysis about "character building" is simply not necessary to understand why trust in professions and institutions has eroded. Look at the simple economics and material issues at play, and the answer becomes obvious. Any system that generates vast potentials for wealth with a low likelihood of occurring...which is essentially a lottery, creates terrible incentives for human behavior and cooperation.

  110. Please. This isn't about the schooling of the average person. This is about a few people who decided to divide America for their own gains. Gingrich, Rove (via W), and Trump. They succeeded. America lost. Russia gets the spoils.

  111. Nero is fiddling. Personally, I can happily blame Republican politicians for most of it. You can’t say that you are pro-life and then cut every safety net you can find. You can’t say that you believe in the importance of family as a social institution and then act to undermine that institution at every turn through your actual policies- making traditional families types poorer, hungrier, less secure in their jobs (not to mention their schools, churches, malls, etc.), while at the same time attempting to stop other groups from joining that institution. You can’t say that the market will invisibly and morally resolve all the economic problems we are confronted with, and then let malefactors get away with bags of money and their freedom after they lied and distorted the economy then drove it into the ditch (after Republicans weakened finance laws). And the archetype of the performative politician in recent years is certainly St Ronnie, who never saw a poor person or a minority person he wasn’t ready to strip of government support. And whatever money we might have had to deal with such problems now that we (mostly) recognize them has been greatly reduced, since the previous disastrous Republican President poured it into the sand, and the current even more disastrous Republican President is attempting to put a portion of what remains into his pocket. I could go in for a very long time with this; but ... The existing GOP is Ground Zero for Institution Day.

  112. @T : It is the voters that give the GOP power.

  113. Glad to see the American Enterprise Institute regarding President Trump as a symptom of what's wrong. Can't help notice that the institution that I count on to mold people and set standards, isn't mentioned. Family, of course. I was a child in a family and I am a parent in a family, and no institution has more profoundly shaped me, or, I hope, my child. My families, different people in different places at different times, were not perfect. But they made me, and they made my child, and I take them very seriously. A way to understand pundits you've never heard of is what they want the reader to fear, because fear is the product they are paid for. Their power, and their employer's power, come from our fear. Mourning our fall from a better state, highlighting toxic politics and name-checking the President as a symptom, and praising something highly circumscribed like the military are merely fents to deliver the payload. This author is saying the fault lies with self-promoting Journalists. Just look at Twitter! The sciences and law are tarred with the same brush, and other expert professions. The academy, beset with "political morality plays", instead of a pursuit of truth. Organized religion, encouraging un-edifying theatrics instead of growth and reflection. Maybe more for families: living wages, affordable housing, paid maternity leave, first class public education, transit, living wages for child-care workers, would help. Dropping Twitter couldn't hurt. Seriously.

  114. Glad to see the American Enterprise Institute regarding President Trump as a symptom of what's wrong. Can't help notice that the institution that I count on to mold people and set standards, isn't mentioned. Family, of course. I was a child in a family and I am a parent in a family, and no institution has more profoundly shaped me, or, I hope, my child. My families, different people in different places at different times, were not perfect. But they made me, and they made my child, and I take them very seriously. A way to understand pundits you've never heard of is what they want the reader to fear, because fear is the product they are paid for. Their power, and their employer's power, come from our fear. Mourning our fall from a better state, highlighting toxic politics and name-checking the President as a symptom, and praising something highly circumscribed like the military are merely fents to deliver the payload. This author is saying the fault lies with self-promoting Journalists. Just look at Twitter! The sciences and law are tarred with the same brush, and other expert professions. The academy, beset with "political morality plays", instead of a pursuit of truth. Organized religion, encouraging un-edifying theatrics instead of growth and reflection. Maybe more for families: living wages, affordable housing, paid maternity leave, first class public education, transit, living wages for child-care workers, would help. Dropping Twitter couldn't hurt. Seriously.

  115. @Bill Abbott I've frequently seen Danielle Pletka, a Senior Fellow at AEI, on "Meet the Press" denying the reality of climate change. Why should we listen to anything the AEI says?

  116. I concluded decades ago that America was losing its middle class and with it the American dream. And it's gotten worse. It is incredibly difficult to address the needs of a society with the diversity that has existed and grown in the U.S. What appears especially frightening since around the emergence of the Tea Party, is that our political system, most notably the Republican Party, has seized on the use of lies and propaganda to promote the agendas of wealthy and power hungry politicians, with a big dose of religious extremism and science denial.

  117. In Lee & Miller's Liaden Universe novels this is known as melanti'i.

  118. When people don't believe the institutions they live within can help them, it's everyone for themselves. The problem is that a wrecking ball is being taken to these institutions and they are not designed to withstand the assault. Telling people to make a moral choice to be more institution-minded is just restating the original failure that the author is diagnosing.

  119. "Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem." - Ronald Reagan (January 20, 1981) We (collectively as Americans) let Reagan frame the institutions this way. And we are surprised that people lost faith in their government? You read Reagan's statement now and think how could we have elected a President who despised the government he was elected to govern? In the private industry, this is tantamount to the board elects the CEO of a company whose elevator pitch is "...this company is not the solution to our problem, this company is the problem. And when I become the CEO of this company, I will make sure to run into the ground." What kind of a board elects such a CEO?

  120. @John D "Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem." No one asked him for whom was government the problem. In my view, he was thinking of the wealthy - who wanted minimal government except for police and national defense. Lower taxes, cut social support benefits such as Medicaid and food stamps, reduce government regulations, increase military spending. The same agenda of the GOP now.

  121. @John D Boeing’s Board and CEO sacrificed the company for higher stock valuations and bigger bonuses, because what mattered most was their portfolios.

  122. @John D I agree with you—why oh why? And why Trump? It is fallacy that Reagan was really the brains behind anything, as he was quite doddering but I guess made a good figurehead for voters old enough to have remembered him as an actor and who found pompadours manly and attractive. I did not understand Reaganism at the time and I still don’t see why people trusted him. The “St. Reagan” mindset does need to go.

  123. An extremely interesting, insightful and well thought-out analysis of our problems. For sure different institutions are affected to a greater or lesser extent and the number of individuals involved in each differ. However it doesn't take a majority to cause people to lose faith. A few "rotten apples" spoil the barrel. And yes when the "bottom line", whether it be power, fame or money become more important than doing a good, honest job for the collective, it begins to go south. I personally believe it started when MBAs became more rewarding than PhDs.

  124. I think the way K-12 history is taught, as random factoids to be remembered for a test is: prone to local manipulation (ie, Texas textbook describing slaves as migrant workers) often lacks context & discourages reflection. If some event doesn't fit into the establishment narrative, it is ignored. There's such an effort to make America look heroic at every turn, troubling moments are papered over. Then, when those who are more deeply affected by these moments complain, the others privileged to not have to deal with it belittle the complaining and spin their own version of truth to the point that there are no common set of facts. Bryan Stevenson said one of the things that the Nuremberg trials did was that it forced Germany to deal with its past. By comparison, Native American genocide happened and the survivors are almost invisible on the reservations...until their water rights have to be violated for a pipeline and no one understands that is a continuation of the abuse. Slavery end to be replaced by Jim Crow and blatant oppression continues for another century. At some point, rather than just presuming exceptionalism, we have to come to term with the good and bad, the ideal and the real, to be a little less partisan and a lot more nuanced to reach an appropriate level of empathy.

  125. I have pretty much lost faith in everyTHING except gravity, but there is still my son and myself in whom I still have much faith.

  126. How could we lose a thing which has no commonly-accepted definition in the first place? If we can all agree that each of us exist, I don’t see why Existentialism should present as such an insurmountable obstacle to our everyday lives. All the world’s a stage, and we’re all just actors. Whether or not we’re free to truly express agency is a matter of what you happen to believe in, I suppose, but most of us possess the capacity to resist acting in a manner which we know to be wrong. Basic human conscientiousness shouldn’t be a difficult thing to figure out. Whether we call the behavior ‘ethical’, or ‘moral’, is just a matter of preference.

  127. "Government so small you can drown it in a bathtub." Institutions are most effective under a Rule of Law. That costs money. Tax money. Take away regulations and enforcement, then corporations step in to the vacuum. They establish their own little fiefdoms, but unite under a single banner, "You can spend your money better than the government can." "Trickle down economy, don't pay taxes and things will get better." "Free Lunch". Who would not vote for "Free Lunch"? Public Institutions protect corporations, not people. And after stagnating wages for generations, who cares about private institutions when all of one's attention is to make enough money to get ahead, just a little? Less lose faith, more just struggling to stay alive without any help from any one, by design.

  128. Because of bad leaders. When you cater to base feelings to win an election, then don't be surprised when the worst comes of it. I'm not excusing Democrats, particularly as of late with the extremists, but it was the Republicans who put Trump into power. Their plan backfired, it was supposed to be another Bush. But that party has been catering to red meat appetites for some time, and lo and behold they're shocked when they get exactly what they publicly asked for. You could say it's Americans but Americans haven't changed nearly as much as our leadership. Americans put their leaders there, but not really when you consider the gerrymandering and the close shave elections. This is mostly a failure of the institutions, and the people who want to fight to run the most powerful nation on the planet...for the time being....instead of do something useful with it, or for people. When you start marginalizing the disabled, and the poor, there's nothing that screams louder than failure in leadership.

  129. It's no coincidence that loss of confidence in institutions parallels the rise in global capital and corporate power and the abdication of responsibility to the community that many American corporations once took seriously. Of course the American Enterprise Institute would not recognize that as a core driver of the weakening of families and communities, but it was not that long ago that families could count on jobs, career growth, health insurance, pensions, even college scholarships in exchange for loyalty to an employer. It was often a single employer that was the cornerstone of a community, and the unions that advocated for the workers had near-equal standing with the boards. It all started fraying in the 80's when Reagan Republicans took on unions and started winning, and then globalization freed corporations to look elsewhere for cheaper workers and fewer regulations. It didn't start with the schools, it started with American businesses turning their backs on American workers. All the other institutions fell like dominoes. Now Americans are each expected to build their own "brands" and compete in the marketplace as inidividuals. And if you fail, well it's your own fault. That's where we are now - a nation of individuals untethered to anything except the need to survive, pitted against each other. Works out well for a few at the top, that's for sure.

  130. This is true not just for USA but for most, if not all, countries in the world. The impact is more profound on those countries which once used to or still do have open society with functional and (mostly) secular democracy with some degree of separation of religion from the Govt. In such countries people feel the difference more while in other, more autocratic, countries people are becoming more desperate to get the benefits, economic prosperity and sociopolitical freedom included, they know were/are available in those first group of countries. One big reason is failure of family structure due to various stress and increasing role of religion in our education system. That tend to cloud our ability to pursue truth (even in so-called prestigious universities and research institutes) and our perception of justice.

  131. @Bonku In many other countries, at least they have political/ideological options in their choice of government. In America, where legalized bribery which leads to corruption is infesting BOTH parties, gives you NO choice.

  132. The breaking down of blind trust in institutions is not a bad thing. The nostalgia for the institutions of 40 years ago is an exercise in avoidance and denial. I was schooled in the 60’s and my 6th grade teacher was accused and convicted of sexual misconduct. His punishment was to never teach in my public school district but he moved on to another district. And we have volumes of evidence against the Catholic Church and the abuses that happened within. Our generation’s distrust and hyper involvement in our children’s education and religious upbringing is completely valid. The other factor that has not been mentioned is the transience of the American family. Many people do not live near extended family and the family institution is difficult to replicate. I’m ok with a skeptics view of American institutions including the military. It is our right to question the decisions of our leaders. They have earned our distrust.

  133. @Margaret I completely agree with all you and others say concerning loss of trust. I think this article aims to look at solutions - which is the most important part of the conversation we must all have, the sooner the better. What the author misses is that government by the people is directly aimed at creating the kind of society and institutions we want to have. We we want more trustworthy institutions we have to create the laws that will make that more likely. I order to make those laws more likely, we have to elect those who will write those laws, and most importantly the laws that will make their own motivations as law makers more trustworthy. Otherwise we will have more of the same, and it will get worse, not better. For me, that is progressive action, and why I am a progressive. You can't get more trust by getting rid of government, that will only lead to more corruption and greed. Vote progressive.

  134. It is difficult to have faith in institutions when you have a president who is constantly trying to undermine trust in our most important institutions such as newspapers, colleges and universities, the courts, etc, just about everything but Fox News and Breitbart News. It is critical to understand the context that the loss of trust in institutions is taking place in which is a move toward fascism by right wing extremists. The undermining of our institutions is critical to their success which requires replacing trust in our institutions with trust in a strongman president. The biggest step to regaining trust in out institutions is getting Trump out of office. If that can be accomplished then we can begin building trust in all the institutions he is trying to tear down.

  135. Americans have become "transactional." Everything is about making a profit or gaining an advantage without regard to the truth, facts or who gets hurt in the process. Notice how Cadet Bone-spur and his supporters measure success by the size of their 401-K's. It doesn't matter that huge numbers of Americans are poor, overworked or in dispair or that there are some truly needy people that need assistance. If they don't contribute to the "transaction" then they simply don't matter. What, indeed, is there to have faith in, when it's all about winning at any cost?

  136. You suggest that I should ask more of myself, but I was only reading this essay in order to comment on it, since the media are no longer an institution that exists to transmit human communications, but rather one that gives us all an opportunity for assuming an attitude toward the mediation that has replaced honest communication with performance.

  137. I think the writer is correct. People in institutions debase those institutions by using them as platforms for self-promotion. Social media helped refine the practice. Yes, institutions and people within them do need some radical rehab. However, we have another problem, the inability of any one or even combination of institutions to credibly take on critical issues, the most prominent being Climate Change. Even if America alone summoned the ability across institutions to, say, embrace the green new deal, it would fall short as a global solution. We need global institutions, not globally imposed but globally accepted to take on Climate Change and other global issues that threaten our common well-being.

  138. The point of our institutions is not to build character, but to carry out the function of that particular institution with integrity. In the US, a country whose religion is unrestrained capitalism, Integrity is not valued. Everything is for sale. The common saying is that we have the best democracy money can buy. Yes, Americans have lost faith in everything. That faith was long since sold.

  139. Mr. Levin and AEI, a corporate lobby/think tank, wants to resurrect the historical concept of individual faith and loyalty to institutions and not in themselves. What he never addresses is that the first and largest wedge that was driven in this was corporate-side abandonment of their own loyalty to their employees. Loyalty implies reciprocity. But only a fool would assume real loyalty from institutions that are committed to keeping their options open. Because - there always might be greener grass, or a prettier girl out there. It's a little awkward to demand monogamous loyalty from individuals, while the institutions remain committed to playing the field.

  140. Individuals need to observe that if they live with a quest for integrity and accountability that they will not be taken advantage of when they lean into modeling behaviors that consider the common good. We started to develop "winner take all" mechanisms to reward "success." Second place has no seat at the table. Thus executives earn much more in multiples than workers. The odds of being a solo winner are low, the consequences of not have become high. Integrity looses value if it is not rewarded. The generation that had to work together to prosper did, the generation that could get what it needed by devaluing honesty and integrity did. It is almost comical how we have legitimized lowering our standards. New myths arise to meet the challenge of avoiding being responsible: deficits and debt do not matter- sure, we say we have a volunteer army- not, it is recruited via payments as we would mercenaries, we use gambling to help pay for public services, we allow congress to act surprised it has to pay for what is votes to spend ( using raising debt ceiling vote as political leverage) If there is a way to distort reality so we can stall its future we take it. There is little to loose if we lack of character and integrity.

  141. Would a better subhead be: "Our institutions lost the capacity to mold character and have become platforms for advancement instead." Performance, related to meritocracy in institutions, is real but has been called into question by many. Can we really say, on balance, people at the pinnacle of government, high-finance, and religion in America have performed well over the past two decades? Institutions need to be revitalized but many people use institutions as a means to an end. In America that end is usually power and wealth which buys you more influence in other institutions.

  142. We haven’t really lost anything at all, it had only been temporarily taken away. Our politicians sold us out to special interests, and the media continues to divided us in the hopes of keeping their hold on power. The good news is the world is waking up to this debacle which took root in our long dark winter. Now a new day has dawned, we’re now standing in the light at the end of the tunnel, and there is nothing which will compel us to go back to where we came from. These are the times we live in, it is only the continuation of falsehoods and omissions of this truth which still leave some people undecided, also a temporary situation. The world is getting a new start in how it will be governed regardless of what we are still being told to the contrary, by a system of illegitimate information in place, which is rapidly being exposed by its own irrelevance.

  143. @Joe Gilkey Dont know what you read that makes you so optimistic, but I am afraid you're too starry eyed.

  144. In my view it was the development of the "Shareholders First and Only" perspective in corporate governance that was one of the first steps in this decline. Corporations used to view that they had relationships with stakeholders - suppliers and customers, labor unions, the communities where their facilities were located. That has all disappeared. Another step was the decades-long attack on labor unions. Unions went from being a stakeholder to being a hostile enemy to be destroyed by moving to locations with no unions, by replacing full-time employees with part-time and temporary employees. A third step was the Nixon embrace of the "Southern Strategy". Rather than accept the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts as critical to heal the history of slavery, the GOP embraced white resentment. The Voting Rights Act in particular was targeted by a forty year campaign to end it. When a political party embraces dog-whistle racism, that party as an institution declines. A forth step was the slide by religious institutions into politics. Religious institutions were seen as unifying institutions where congregants could put aside their political views at the door. I grew up in a religious institutions were the leadership had strong political views and tried to mobilize the community for their agenda. It does not matter if the agenda was left or right - the mobilization was wrong.

  145. @Brad I think I agree with your thoughts on the mobilization of religious institutions into politics, esp. the observation that it doesn't matter whether the agenda is left or right. In 2001, I converted from a fundamentalist congregation to perhaps the most liberal denomination around but now find that its progressive agenda and emphasis on social action (and I don't mean caring for the poor) leaves me cold. The church has become politicized. It's hard to find a genuine place of sanctuary today, which would, I think, now have to include a sense of anonymity, this in a place that should be anything but. So I don't go to church anymore and have stopped looking. But, at its best, the church can be foundational to a person's understanding of community and extended family and give a sense of meaning and purpose. I am so grateful for the stories and Judeo-Christian ethics of my youth.

  146. The obvious answer to the question "How did Americans lose faith in everything? is a mysterious ray gun, probably from outer space, which has shrunken our spiritual centers so that we have nothing left to rally around except our families and our favorite shows on Netflix.

  147. “[Alexander] Hamilton said that the greatest danger would be an impeachment that was based on who had the most votes in the House or removal based on who had the most votes in the Senate. And that's precisely what we're seeing happen, and the reason we're seeing it is because of the use of open-ended criteria. Every controversial president since John Adams has been accused of abuse of power. And obstruction of Congress? That's part of our system of checks and balances. ... So I think the House of Representatives violated the Constitution when they impeached him on these two grounds.”

  148. @NYChap While partisanship is certainly one factor in the House impeachment and Senate trial, I do not think that obstruction is the same thing as legitimate checks and balances. Congress has the authority and duty to exercise oversight of the executive branch. The presidency has grown too powerful, and needs to be taken down several notches.

  149. @Chris Rasmussen - The articles of impeachment that the House brought to the Senate for trial are not impeachable offenses. Alan Derschowitz will explain why when he gives the opening statements after the Democrats get to give their opening statements.

  150. Who the heck are you even quoting? Also, I'm starting to become tired of the cult of personalities surrounding the Founding Fathers. They didn't have a monopoly on the objective truth or reason. The Constitution was made in a sweaty, humid room in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787. Much of the Founding Fathers were essentially anti-democratic in their views, and owned slaves. Either way, "high crimes and misdemeanors" was supposed to be open-ended. And maybe if you bothered doing more research besides mysteriously quoting anonymous people, you would know that the Founding Fathers regarding impeachment considered the act of having a foreign power interfere with our elections (which is what Trump encouraged) as one of the most serious events that could occur.

  151. Agreed. I wish to point out another "culprit:" The internet. When people got their information from established newspapers and CBS/NBC/ABC they acquired information that had been vetted, from people who had employers who held them to high standards. Now, we have thousands of people on the internet throwing "news" at us. And one feature of this "news" is that it appeals to a powerful part of our DNA--which is the "emotional" validity of anecdotal evidence. A thousand classrooms can have teachers who hold high standards, yet the one example of a failure is broadcast on the internet......and it has more power to influence our views than does the thousand classrooms. And that power communicates to us that "all" classrooms/teachers are not to be trusted. We did not evolve as a species to understand the law of large numbers, to understand "statistics" as it were. We evolved, and survived to evolve, by listening for a rustle in the bushes and using that anecdotal evidence to avoid being eaten by a tiger. The internet allows anyone to throw out anecdotes, without standards of presenting context or representativeness. So, "emotionally" we lose faith in institutions because we overgeneralize rare events. It will only get worse.

  152. @Travelers The Internet is simply a tool or vehicle and not the real problem.

  153. Read the article, many of the comments. Individuals cannot make it. Societies do not work that way. Big Institutions have been bought or corrupted. Their very size is inefficient. I think pretty much what Hillary said, "It takes a village."

  154. “This social crisis has followed upon a collapse of our confidence in institutions — public, private, civic and political. But we have not given enough thought to just what that loss of confidence entails and why it’s happening” Totally disagree. As a 57 year old white guy from California the loss of confidence is by design and started with Regan. The GOP sees this country as a giant piece of business. Public institutions like schools and any public institution should be privatized so as to make a few business people rich. And now we have Trump, who wonders why we can’t make a profit off of our military forces.

  155. The fall of American institutions may have a lot of sources, but for me they all share a common core, expressed in three letters: MBA The goal of modern capitalism is to reduce everything to a system, and to deny the importance and talent of individuals to the greatest extent possible. Mr. Levin almost immediately announces that he belongs to this perspective by the very language he chooses: an institution is a 'structure, a process, a form'. This key element of the ideology of modern business, to pretend that the individual does not matter, just the 'structure and process', has encouraged the rise of the MBA. By earning an MBA, a person of limited ability can rise ABOVE all the misguided people who spent countless hours learning their art, trade or profession. Go go a large hospital and look at the organization chart - it is likely an MBA is the head of a division, or even the whole institution, above the doctors and nurses with their high level of skill and experience. Go to a university - you will find MBAs with titles like 'provost' and 'vice president' who give orders to faculty with advanced degrees and specialized knowledge - and while making a much higher salary. Talented people do sometimes go back to school for an MBA. They do this cynically; It costs money but anyone with half a brain can pass, and they realize they have no chance of advancement without one. Simply put, incompetents run the show. They can even be president! What should we have faith in?

  156. While people with an MBA may run non-academic areas, no one on faculty pays any attention to anyone without Dr. In his or her name. Even adjuncts have doctorates and MBAs rank after them. Provosts, etc., may have acquired some kind of business degree, but that they always lead off with the PhD.

  157. @Michael Blazin Michael , I don’t know if you are college faculty - I am, and while it is true that most faculty don’t directly report to an MBA, it is increasingly likely that department or program chairs DO, and often in a context that is specifically academic (i.e. education or research, not finance). Certainly the case in my university.

  158. It starts at the top. The destruction of the federal legislative branch by its own members and the corruption of Congress has trickled down and fanned out. There are three specific things we can point to for this: Big money political donations Unlimited political advertising in the media lack of term limits This has led to the rise of the individual being more important than the institution. And other people in other institutions have followed suit. The nonsense coming from these people through the media is blood-curdling and completely frightening. It is destroying discourse in America. I am very liberal and progressive, but I have never had a problem with conservatives or red states, I respect different opinions and lifestyles; but now the politicians through the media are trying to convince me that I do have a problem. It is a kind of moral and spiritual pollution. Do you know how political campaigns are conducted in Japan? No advertising in the media (only reporting), a one-month window of activity, and the candidate goes to a parking lot, stands on a soapbox and gives a speech for the lunchtime crowd, and that's it. It's really, really sad when you think about it. This country should be a paradise, but it isn't and it never will be. It is destroying itself. Starting from the top down.

  159. Unfortunately Reaganism is firmly entrenched and I do not see a way out. At least in my lifetime. Its tenets of mis-trust in government, a sad devotion to self-interest and poorly regulated capitalism brought us to this moment. Time to put people back in charge who believe in good governance and all it can do to be a positive, improving force in peoples lives.

  160. All institutions are cultural. You can't have an institution without a culture. You can have a culture without an institution though. I'm willing to say the chicken came before the egg on this one. We still don't know exactly why the chicken invented the road to cross. However, the chicken decided it needed a road to cross before deciding why. That decision is culturally informed. Institutions, political, religious, or otherwise, are the result of these decisions. I think the problem we face in the US today is there are more than one culture vying for viability. Perhaps the distinction began with the Civil War. Perhaps before. I don't know. However, whatever went wrong with this country, it began with two diametrically opposed opinions on the purpose and function of institutions. These are the symptoms of a national culture at odds with itself. A symptom resultant from more than one culture existent within the nation. Ask yourself this question: What do you really have in common with me? Biologically: Virtually everything. Culturally: Little to nothing. These States aren't so United as they claim.

  161. What we need is _not_ a revival or return to the "American Dream": That dream has turned into a nightmare. Sloganism and one word subjects that have the cultural impetus to turn most of us into nodding heads are a cultural illness that is eating away at our connection and common identification as humans with common needs. What we need is not institutions which mold character, but institutions which recognize and support the fundamental needs of children, of families, of communities: that is where our "character"--our values truly live. We need institutions which build from that level, from the bottom up, not from the status-filled halls of academia or tall glass and steel emblems of power and dominance.

  162. There is so much to comment on here, beginning with placing the lost of trust squarely where it belongs: the policy makers, corporations and media that formed after the Fairness Doctrine was abolished. The working class has been doing what they have always done: working and making things better for all of us. And, like Sisyphus, they have been pushing the rock up the mountain and watching it descend, only to do it over and over again. The working class wage has not budged for decades. In fact, it has declined while the average CEO makes millions. There was considerable effort put in union busting and denying collective bargaining at the same time that US businesses wanted access to global markets. China now has a middle class at the expense of our OWN middle class. No money has been put into infrastructure or public education and hate radio keeps spewing vitriol. George W. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the Neocons took us to war with Iraq on a lie, but at least they could keep the military industrial complex flush and Cheney and Halliburton made out like bandits. But then, the Cout de Gras: the 2008 recession. This was truly the game changer. It exposed the perpetrators and the victims. But the perpetrators suffered no consequences, only the victims. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church is exposed for rampant, child abuse which ran for decades and the pharmaceutical companies were knowingly turning our citizens into drug addicts. Now let’s talk loss of trust!

  163. A critical point in the destruction of our institutions began with the Reagan Republicans' attacks on government as the problem, a callous ploy to create and harness alienation. When academia challenged this, it too was branded as the problem, and so too then the media. This is an ideology of power, otherwise simply nihilism, nihilism as the root to otherwise illegitimate power. This is the true legacy of Reaganism and the Republican party.

  164. American society places individual rights and freedoms above the well-being of society as a whole, while American government policy favours corporate success over the well-being of society as a whole. Take, for example, freedom of expression of opinions over facts. I cannot imagine the Founding Fathers, in their 18th century discussion rooms, ever imagining the ideal of granting white, middle-aged, land-owning gentlemen the right to disagree and debate government policy without fear of persecution leading to anonymous internet posts that allow anti-vaccine advocates to push their anti-science agenda. There is nothing in the Bill of Rights restricting the individual right to express disproved information, even as allowing opinion with no technical support to spread as if it were fact harms society as a whole. Likewise, no one rule of government requires elected officials to care for the whole of society over special interest corporate greed. Take a look at coal-fired generators. Clearly, the pollution generated is bad for the health of all breathing members of society, but closing all such plants would cause economic harm to a handful of companies. Until such time that strong financial and criminal penalties force all elected officials to be truthful and factual at all times, this will not change.

  165. I still think it's worth having a deep audit of voting procedures and voting machines in America. After Republicans have shown recently what they're capable of, who can say with full confidence that elections in some States aren't rigged?

  166. I don't believe it's hard to understand. Our institutions long ago abandoned any sense of public good and went off to grab as much money as possible. Examples abound in Government of course, but also in Big Banking, Big Media, Big Ag, Big Pharma, Big Churches, you name it. That is not to say there aren't really admirable folks working within any of these arenas--there are-- but they can't turn a ship around by themselves. The flip side is, when everything is about next week, or this quarter, there's no longer term thought or planning. Unlike China for example, America doesn't really do long term, it has come back to bite us, and will bite for a very long time.

  167. "Asking such questions of ourselves would be a first step..." Yes, it would. But I see no hope for that. An alarming percentage of Americans are willing to excuse, overlook, or actively support a leader (as well as his corrupt cohort) who exhibits severe character and personality flaws and serious intellectual shortcomings - for reasons known only to themselves and, in some cases, reasons they can't even articulate. But I think it's a safe bet that safeguarding or restoring the integrity of our institutions isn't one of them. Not even on the radar. Guess I could be the poster child for Americans who've "lost faith in everything". I do respect the author's analysis, aspirations and advice, but I also expect to go to my grave permanently disillusioned by the significant number of my fellow humans who apparently consider his questions irrelevant.

  168. faith in anything and everything has never ever come from institutions. faith in anything and everything has always come from family in our first three years.

  169. First, I would start with inequality as the base problem, that our social problems would lessen if more people had living wages and could focus on something more than the struggle to make it to next week. So, I disagree with the premise. Secondly, if all the things were really a concern, wouldn't one look to where things might be better? In the real world, where actual polices work to improve people's lives, people are happy about it and vote to keep it? That is where I would start. But those are the kinds of things AEI has always opposed.

  170. The author had it backwards. People using institutions to build their personal brands is the result of the breakdown of those institutions not the cause. It’s a necessary survival tactic in a world in which your institution may dump you or undergo a wrenching restructuring in the blink of an eye. The larger question is, what led these institutions to degrade. The answer is more often than not greed. Money in politics made politicians more interested in “monetizing” their service than governing. Wall Street all but forced companies to sacrifice their workers and long term health for ever higher profits. Star athletes became million dollar brands that superseded their teams and even the sports they play. Is it any wonder in a society where profit became God that institutions like churches ended up corrupted as well?

  171. Levin has made a great start with this column. Beginning to change this environment doesn't require much more than common sense. Perhaps we should take money out of politics (anathema to McConnell). Perhaps we should impose term limits on elected officials (anathema to McConnell). Perhaps we should all agree that what occurs in the bedroom, doctor's office or is taught in the place of worship is none of our business...nor that of the state (anathema of the far right). Maybe we should stop vilifying scientists (they don't get rich by sharing results on climate change). And maybe we could all agree that there are a few things we could do to eliminate the necessity of active shooter drills for our children. Everything around us is changing and the rate of change is mind-boggling yet we still have politicians pretending like it is still the 1950's. Maybe we simply just need politicians born after the 1950's.

  172. @Tom Q: OK, except for the term limits part. Term limits make sense for the president (although maybe three terms would be OK), but that is because there, one person wields the entire power of one of the three branches of government. Nothing like this is the case with legislators or judges. (You might make an argument that no one person should hold the position of Speaker or Majority Leader for more than two or three terms) But to limit the terms of the rank and file is simply to weaken the legislature, and to strengthen the hands of corporations and wealthy individuals. Legislators will be thinking more about the corporation or think tank where they will be working next, and not so much about the people they are supposed to represent, who will have no way of rewarding them for faithful service...

  173. I agree with most of this column, as with most of his columns, but he fails here to recognize that the failure of these institutions is not the result of the failure of the individual members. It is the result of the inappropriate social roles of so many of these institutions, and the growing rejection of those roles by so many individuals. So many of our institutions were formed to protect the positions of those who already had power and comfort. As we have come to recognize that, and to recognize that the power and comfort was largely taken or scavenged from those with less power and comfort, we have grown to reject those protective institutions. I am a 60 year old white man who will probably not be around to see better institutions replace those that are failing today, but I am confident they are coming. We're in deep trouble if they don't.

  174. As the public sphere expands, that inherent conflict becomes more open. In earlier days, this country had all kinds of behaviors and processes that nominally followed a general standard, but differed significantly in the details. As government becomes the dominant voice in growing number of areas, you should naturally expect a counter attack. Instead of just saying no, those people that disagreed learned to participate in that encroaching government. Their role inside became making it weaker. They leverage the inherent structure set up by the Founders that had own reservations of an encroaching government. This conflict never gets resolved. As other non-government institutions participate with encroaching government, they get drawn into the conflict by trying to influence it and get sullied by it. The military achieved its position by, with the exception of leaders that left the military and entered politics, avoiding the conflict and taking the orders of whichever group temporality dominated the government.

  175. It is not a great mystery. In my parents’ generation, it was possible to serve institutions and still be able to afford housing. Housing is essential to finding and staying with a spouse and to raising children. Therefore, it is now necessary to serve yourself more than an institution in order to survive as a normal human.

  176. Americas lost trust in many institutions because the institutions became less trustworthy. It's as simple as that.

  177. @Charlesbalpha Yes. They blatantly used lies and deception to gain support for insupportable actions.

  178. "SKILL, SERVICE, HONOR", motto of Elektor Academy, the private school my thoughtful parents enrolled me in at the age of four. Forever grateful to the founder and my parents for this eternal wisdom. HONOR was the greatest of these. Students and campers at the afflicted summer camp, were rewarded with commendations, SERVICE is what one willingly performed without seeking recognition and SKILL was a work ethic in every endeavor.

  179. @Lynn Russell Pardon me, that was "affiliated" summer camp certainly not afflicted.......

  180. Institutions are supposed to serve people. When they don't, they lose our trust. Government is supposed to serve all people, not just the 1%. Yet Congress fails to pass laws with broad public support (gun control, overturning Citizens United, higher taxes for the wealthy, etc.). Businesses are supposed to serve their customers and their employees, not just their shareholders. Yet they slash benefits, cut costs at the expense of quality, and buy back their own shares instead of investing in R&D. I still believe in the institution of the United States of America. I believe patriotism means wanting a good life for all your fellow Americans. I'm doing well personally, but many of my fellow Americans are struggling. That's why I'm voting for Bernie Sanders. #NotMeUs

  181. Exactly. Take academia, for instance. Most university professors in the US and Canada are now low-paid, contracted and expendable. What kind of loyalty and sense of being an institutional insider does that engender? Not much. In such an environment, I have heard academics talk about having to "brand" themselves to stay afloat in the ever increasing competitive world of untethered academia. All of this in the pursuit of greater institutional profits that flow to the few at the top.

  182. Americans lost trust in our institutions because we've had a rogue government at the helm for 50 years (yup, both parties) that don't address or listen to the needs and wishes of the American people. It's that simple.

  183. @pork chops Yes. Not only did they fail to need the desires of the American people. They used outrageous deception to provide pretexts for war and are still doing so. That was the most contemptible act and was bound to destroy trust.

  184. Our institutions are under assault because they are being infiltrated and brought down by people who never believed in them in the first place. Look at how many federal agencies are now being run by people who previously lobbied against them. I know it's tiring to keep blaming the Tea Party but their whole reason for being was to destroy the government (I believe one conservative said he wanted government small enough he could drown it in a bathtub). So they tried to influence people already in office and when that came up short they ran for office. We keep blaming "partisanship" in Washington as if it's a bug, when for these people it's a feature. Other institutions have always been vulnerable to the same kind of influences, but under the current administration unscrupulous individuals have found an empowering force that protects them from the consequences of overstepping general acknowledged guidelines. What'll help? To borrow a phrase, the best way to stop a bad guy in a public job is a good guy in a public job. We need to start back electing people of character, who have a mindset toward conducting themselves appropriately and in the best interests of the public, whether or not those people voted for them.

  185. When one strips away all the rhetoric and hand wringing as to why citizens have lost faith in their institutions, it ultimately boils down to three words,"legalized bribery" and "corruption". When politicians succumb to the unlimited amounts of money thrown their way by lobbyists whose ultimate goal is to have government serve the their interests and not the vast majority of people in the country no wonder citizens feel the way thy do and BOTH parties are responsible. The problem is even more acute now when the country has in place a President and his henchmen whom, among their many goals, is to weaken or dismantle the very institutions that Americans have cherished as a protection to their society. The choice in 2020 is clear, either Americans decide(incorrectly) that a return to their perception of "normalcy" of the Obama days will be OK(which is what got Trump elected in the first place)OR to decide to put in place a leader and government whom are unencumbered by the money and influence of the lobbyists to make the government more accountable to ALL Americans, not just the few and spend money where it is really needed not on TRILLIONS on tax breaks and subsidies for the wealthy and corporations who are just making a bad situation even worse. In doing nothing other than the "status quo", means just handing the country over to the Oligarchs and destroying what is left of democracy in America.

  186. If ‘Normalcy’ means taking care of the poor, addressing the vast inequality, taking climate change seriously, bringing integrity back to politics and institutions, I don’t believe that’s wrong.

  187. @Tim Rutledge Unfortunately, the normalcy that you might be making reference make to during the Obama days created as many problems as it solved. He came in to office with the concept of "hope and change' in America which when ultimately evaluated, Obama was just another corporate/establishment centrist democrat whose failure to implement meaningful change in the life of many Americans, never materialized. The particularly low black voter turnout in 2016 just confirmed that problem. Over the next few years, it resulted in the loss of almost 1000 democratic seats at both the state and federal levels, two thirds of the states being controlled by Republicans(so they could gerrymander at their hearts content) and Hillary Clinton losing to the candidate with the worst approval rating in history. It now requires a much more significant change, NOT the corporate/establishment centrist "status quo" candidate that will not implement the necessary changes to prevent another Donald Trump clone waiting in the wings in 2024 to take over again.

  188. I don't think it's rocket science. WWII pulled the country together and there was a huge wave of goodwill associated with winning the 'good war'. That swept everything else under the rug for a generation. There are few people left who really remember it, though, so we're seeing the return of may of the selfish philosophies of the early 20th century. And the internet accelerates the process. I'm not optimistic...

  189. @Peter Holding my thumb out at arm's length, I'm thinking 30% chance the USA is not here in 30 years. But that may not be a bad thing. Let's take Roe v. Wade. I'd say almost no piece of legislation has caused more tension between the fundamentalist South and its allies and New England and its allies. What if the South was able to do its own thing, and New England was able to do its own thing? I'd recommend strong trade pacts, maybe a common military to prevent goofiness.

  190. @Peter The fund of Goodwill accumulated by USA back then has been squandered by the increasing bad acts during the Cold War, now merged into the bad acts of the new American war for domination.

  191. This has been the direct and very conscious goal of the Republican party and, more importantly, the moneyed interests behind them for decades.

  192. @Kidgeezer What is "This"? What are they trying to do?

  193. When this country was founded, its’ economic sector was governed by federal institutions, which were in turn, subject to the will of all citizens through the act of voting. Throughout the the industrial revolution, the owners of the economic sector gradually gained independence from those institutions of government, relieving the owners of the burden of considering the needs of the citizens. In the last 1/2 century, the economic sector has assumed a position of de-facto governance over the federal institutions which were originally conceived to be a check&balance so that citizens might have some small hope of pursuing happiness. And so, here we are, trying over and over again to vote for change, so that we may live again as a people with a legitimate voice in framing our national destiny, and finding out (over & over), that the people controlling the destiny of our country no longer require our advice, and that voting is now a quaint artifact of another time.

  194. At the founding of this country, the government had very little control over the economy. That weakness continued for at least 150 years. People keep forgetting there is American history before the New Deal.

  195. Adam Smith, in Wealth of Nations, describes a society where success might be defined as passing on to the next generation a society as good as or better than the one we received, to constantly improve economically for everyone. And regulated government redistributed wealth through enforcing the rule of law, public works and civic improvement. The rich paid disproportionately more because they had disproportionately benefited, and the goal was constant improvement, which is has costs. Businesses existed to benefit the society that allowed it to exist. Obviously, this is an ideal, a goal that can never be reached. Contrast that with the values where the only obligation people have is to make money for themselves. Hollowing out the infrastructure, weakening institutions is legislated into law. Businesses are encouraged to use more local resources than they pay for. Water, air, people are to be used to make a profit, then thrown away. If they cannot stand up for themselves, too bad. And they cannot form unions. And the law will not protect them. Small government. Low Taxes. Few Regulations. Make America Great Again.

  196. Institutions changed -now the goal is to serve themselves, not the constituency they were designed to serve. Universities want to eliminate tenure-partly to lower costs, but much of this funding are not diverted to help students -it is diverted to increase the bureaucracy of the institution itself. Many churches are more interested in protecting and enhancing the image of their institution, and frankly enriching themselves, seeking tithes from struggling families for their own devices or hoarding of money. Congress is one of the most egregious examples . Does anyone think any of the current crop of self dealing fools will be enshrined as outstanding public servants? Hardly likely. This started in earnest with Ronald Reagan proclaiming "Government IS the problem". While Government cannot solve all problems, and should not, Government by and large did address and ameliorate difficult situations in our nation - voting rights, reducing poverty among the elderly with the advent of Social Security and Medicare, investing in public education, health and safety regulations and laws, and environmental protections to name a few. Unfortunately many of these achievements are currently under assault. Lastly, the advent of the internet and social media has been a decidedly mixed blessing. It has brought many conveniences and created many new jobs. The cost however has been the ability to hide behind it's curtain to the detriment of civil discourse and social engagement.

  197. I think it's pretty rich to read Mr. Levin, a scholar at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, bemoaning our loss of faith in our institutions. We were doing quite well, thank you, not perfect but on a good trajectory towards economic and social progress, from 1932 until the 1970s. Then Mr. Levin's spiritual brethren started in on their generations-long campaign to roll back the New Deal and hasten the Revenge of the Rich and Powerful. After a few decades of Greed is Good, Government is the Problem Not The Solution, Welfare Queens, Trickle-Down, and so on, it's Morning In America, just as you hoped it would be. Congratulations, Mr. Levin, you've won.

  198. @Rick Pardon me, but I think your response is symptomatic of the the problem. I'm a liberal democrat and know nothing of Mr. Levin. I do note, however, that your attack on him is all about his identity and the identity of his colleagues, with no comment on the substance of the ideas he presented. Ad hominem attacks such as this are widespread one of the main reasons we cannot make progress on finding common policy progress. Please - more on the issues and facts, less on the messengers.

  199. @Corax Levin's argument in one form or another is common among the conservatives who led us to the point we are at, David Brooks among them. They bemoan the state of our institutions without taking responsibility for their role in it and not even seeming to fully recognize their culpability. Of course they would say liberals undermined institutions too, e.g. the institution of marriage, or the church, and we can argue about that. Probably no surprise that I as a liberal find their hyper-capitalism and disparagement of government to be the prime cause of the problem.

  200. @Corax Nonsense. Rick is quite right. Levin is part of a group of people who, since the 1980's, have urged Americans to turn their backs on collective action and trust the markets, which are an agglomeration of individuals making choices to benefit themselves. The core belief of Levin and his ilk is that the markets tell us what people really want, while government tells us only what the people who work in government want. So how did that turn out? The markets told us that people wanted adjustable rate mortgages that would only work if home prices kept going up by double digits forever, and so government stood aside and let them have what they wanted. Are we all happy with the result? Levin is not a scientist but an ideologue. What he writes is not based on evidence but on a set of beliefs that he clings to no matter what the evidence shows. Anyone in any political group who acts that way is going to be wrong a lot of the time. Conservatives certainly have been.

  201. I think this all began with Fox News and rightwing talk radio. Ever since they began broadcasting anger and division everyday, America has become ever more divided. There's money to be made in selling resentment.

  202. Not only the Right. MSNBC has its share of resentment pedlars.

  203. I am saddened by the lack of social cohesion in the world I see. Absolutely, I am so happy that we live in a world that is safer and so much wealthier than the world was when I was born a little over one half of a century ago. I am also baffled that though the world is a less dangerous place now than has ever existed, my children did not have the opportunity to play outside with hordes of other children like the vast majority of people who have ever walked the earth. We are now so afraid of one another, and so easily offended. There is a profound lack of social trust and I am not sure what the road of repair looks like. I suspect asking "what should I do here" suggestion could help. I wish there was something that could have a stronger impact in repairing our communities that are so fragmented and full of despair.

  204. @Elena Not just “so easily offended”—also so entitled to offend. That mentality, unlike wealth, is actually trickling down from our president and his super-rich corrupt cronies. Kids in NM still play outside with neighbors—I’m sorry yours don’t.

  205. If I were to single out one institution, i would be the Republican Party, a party (along with its right-wing hate mongering) that has lead an attack on cooperation, peace, science, minority rights, climate change. I could list more.

  206. @dguet Of course...totally predictable. EVERTHING is the fault of the Republicans.

  207. @dguet I'd actually go one step deeper and point the finger at the Rupert Murdochs, Fox News, and media empires who have over two decades now profited from disinformation and explicit lies.

  208. There are no easy fixes to a problem that started some where around 1970s.Though one needs to ask where do the educated elites,politicians,lawyers,business people and owners come from?Why it is our universities that made a conscious decision to abandon the humanities.Universities are businesses that churn out diplomas like we churn out plastic bottles.Academics who care about the payout,their consulting fees.We have educated professionals who are mediocrity and clearly lack critical thinking skills!The universities are here to produce wage and salary earners.They are the architects of our demise of all of our institutions!This may sound harsh though when we look at our graduate programs in the sciences and anything requiring high math we literally have Chinese,Iranians and Indians.We put no priority in education.We care only about how much money we earn and how can We be entertained.This is the end result of the best and brightest who refuse to look deep into themselves.These are the people who gave us the Boeing 737 max.This is a direct result of the Universities that have created a culture of lies!When the Universities change then and only then will our institutions regain the trust and faith they are meant to have.

  209. @Blue Collar 30 Plus I disagree about “academics”. Actual professors are still fighting the proverbial good fight, for truth, justice, and the American way. It’s the people who are not in the classroom or the lab, the ones responsible for trying to make the academy into the profit-earning corporation, that are the problem. We should have more vocational schools and apprenticeships and the like, and we should value those more.

  210. I think our institutions are performing admirably, considering their responsibilities. There have always been self-serving people in all our institutions. It's easy to come up with a prominent list. Mr. Levin has failed to recognize one of the most significant strains on our institutions. Both the poor and uneducated reproduce at rates much higher than (more than double) than the educated and financially sound. The imbalance between those who need help and those who can provide it, is becoming greater.

  211. @Raz Ok I accept your conservative argument. Consider: healthy, educated women have fewer, healthier, better educated children, but conservatives keep punishing women for having children by making women have children under increasingly unreasonable circumstances: no health care, no education and thus no future for the children. Women ask: why? Why do conservatives insist on no birth control, no abortion, no social services, no libraries, no education, etc. the hypocrisy of conservatives is what is really driving the boat here.

  212. How did Americans lose faith in everything? We removed our "gatekeepers". 1. Librarians who categorized and recommended our information objectively 2. Academics w/appropriate systematic accreditation dismantled for cheaper labor, internet degrees, and political gain 3. Senior journalists--removed at the point factual information went up for sale to the masses for the cheapest price and ratings (entertainment) 4. Congressional Representatives who represented their constituents and our collective best interests rather than the corporation that bankrolled them into office. Plus one giant lie/myth purposely fostering the societal culture that if something makes money it has to be good and rarely should never be penalized because eventually the money not penalized because the money would trickle down and everything would be just great again.

  213. @Jane Smith I am afraid you neglected to mention the most important cause of why it has all happened in the first place, "legalized bribery and corruption" at all levels of government in America.