“Some 71% said military officers put the interests of the country ahead of their own interests, while just 12% thought the same about members of Congress. “
Glenn Reynolds: Forecast of distrust with a chance of revolution
And this isn’t just Republicans in a sour mood after seven years of Obama. As the AP noted, “Perhaps most vexing for the dozen or so candidates vying to succeed President Barack Obama, the poll indicates widespread skepticism about the government’s ability to solve problems, with no significant difference in the outlook between Republicans and Democrats.”
Well, that’s not just vexing for presidential candidates. It’s a bad sign for the country. But if Americans lack confidence in the federal government, who can blame them?
Despite all the talk about “smart power,” the United States’ position in the world is in decline. The Middle East is on fire; Putin is running rampant in eastern Europe and Syria; Saudi Arabia is probably looking to get an atomic bomb to balance the one that Iran is expected to get in spite of (because of?) the recent U.S./Iran nuclear deal; and Europe is flooded with migrants who don’t look likely to integrate well. The latter is of course a result of the Middle East problems and of the overthrow of Libya’s dictator, Col. Moammar Gadhafi, in a war-of-choice launched without congressional approval at the behest of Hillary Clinton, then-United Nations ambassador Susan Rice and then-National Security Council senior aide Samantha Power.
Meanwhile, at home, the economy limps along despite seven years of “recovery” and record deficits. Among the Democratic political candidates, only Bernie Sanders seems to make a big deal of real unemployment (including underemployment and people who have given up looking for jobs) being much higher than the rosy official unemployment numbers. The New York Times, meanwhile, asks if America’s best days are behind it.
Then there’s the official lawlessness. The IRS, hiding from investigations that it targeted Tea Party groups, keeps “accidentally” destroying hard drives. Hillary’s emails also keep mysteriously disappearing, and now the State Department has used the blizzard as an excuse for not producing court-ordered emails, though it’s known about the order for months. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, former attorney general Michael Mukasey says that Hillary should face criminal charges, but who really expects that? She’s politically untouchable, which says bad things about the rule of law.
All of this comes against a background of debacles like the botched ObamaCare rollout, the mistranslated “reset” button with Russia, a Secret Service that can’t seem to hang on to its guns, to keep its agents sober or to keep intruders out of the White House, an EPA that didn’t report the water problems in Flint, Mich., and a seemingly endless array of similar screwups. When they’re not crooks, our leaders all too often seem to be incompetents.
If this were just one-sided anger at the Obama Administration, then it would be troubling, but not dangerous. But if, as seems plausible, a majority of Americans don’t think a Republican administration would represent a substantial improvement, then we’ve got a bigger problem. If voters think that they can’t vote their way out of a problem, then they may look to other solutions.
POLICING THE USA: A look at race, justice, media
A much-hyped YouGov poll from last fall found that 29% of Americans could imagine supporting a military coup. That poll probably overstated popular support — it didn’t ask if people favored a coup right now, just whether they could imagine supporting one, including in the instance of the government violating the Constitution — but there was also this, as Newser reported: “Some 71% said military officers put the interests of the country ahead of their own interests, while just 12% thought the same about members of Congress. “
A democracy that gives rise to those sorts of sentiments is a democracy that’s in trouble. And America’s political class, which is used to operating in a world where there’s lots of room to get things wrong, needs to up its game before things get worse.
Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor, is the author of The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself, and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors.
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