Thursday, August 8, 2019

Institutions Uber Alles

Last night, I had a dream which, well, inspired this blog post. I met up with two friends from grad school in this dream, wished them a happy anniversary (yes, in real life, they got married during APSA season long ago), and then we talked about institutions. Yes, a very UCSD dream and reality.

The basic point is this: terrorism and insurgency are attacks upon institutions.  That democracies and civil societies work via a variety of institutions that provide a sense of security, some sense of access to political power (via voting, organizing, protesting, lobbying, donating, etc), some degree of certainty.

Institutions can help contain evil-doers by not just creating rules but also enforcing them and legitimating them.  So, when white supremacists increased the threat they posed in the 1990s--not just Oklahoma City bombing--a variety of institutions played a role in helping to marginalize this insurgency so much that we didn't even think it was an insurgency.

A variety of institutions necessary for the functioning of American democracy have been under attack for more than two decades--the media, the courts, Congress itself, and, lately, law enforcement.  These attacks are not necessarily coordinated, but they have a cumulative impact.  This all was going on before Trump, but now we have those who want to burn down these institutions in positions to do so.  Many of these arsonists may not be white supremacists--they just want to engage in their kleptocracy without interference.  But some are--Trumps (Don and Don Jr., Ivanka), Miller, Sessions when he was AG, Barr?, John Kelly, and so on. 

Institutions are not easy to build, they take some time to become legitimate.  Eroding them?  Might take far less time.  So, I worry about this, and I wonder what the next administration will do.  Will they have ideas (plans?) about how to restore institutions?  How much will the Trumped courts get in the way of such efforts?  Can the next admin purge (yes, purge) the white supremacists and other awful people from wherever they have found perches, including the State Department?

As Obama noted during the 2016 campaign, Democracy was on the ballot.  I am not sure he anticipated how much so, but damn, there it is.  The institutions upholding American democracy are at grave risk.  They are being deliberately targeted by a variety of forces.  Not sure how we can protect them, but the first step is to call it out when you see it.

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