It Is Not Bad News that We Distrust American Institutions

Marketwatch published an editorial by columnist Paul Brandus in which he mourned the direction that he thinks America is headed.

Commentators worry that people distrust American institutions rather than worry that those institutions are untrustworthy.

Marketwatch published an editorial by columnist Paul Brandus in which he mourned the direction that he thinks America is headed. To my mind, the column is a mixed bag. The main reason I think it is worth mentioning is that Brandus does something that many others do: complain that Americans now distrust American institutions.

If those institutions are untrustworthy, then widespread distrust in them is a positive development.

He writes, “The 21st Century has not been the American Century.

But 9/11 also led to something else: the gradual relinquishing of freedom in the name of security. Politicians who were always opposed to big government suddenly made it a lot bigger, with massive, highly expensive new federal agencies that to this day have greater power to pry deep into our personal lives. We surrendered this precious privacy with barely a squawk.

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Today, America is not as free as it used to be. As the century began, Freedom House ranked us (with 1 being the best), a 1 for civil liberties and a 1 for political rights. Today, we’re still a 1 when it comes to civil liberties, but our political rights have been downgraded to a 2. Behind the lower grade: “growing evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 elections, violations of basic ethical standards by the new administration, and a reduction in government transparency.”

In terms of economic freedom, the Cato Institute says that in the 1999, we were the fifth-freest country in the world, with a ranking of 8.7 out of 10 for a variety of categories. We are now 11th. In terms of personal freedom, we’re only 24th.

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, doesn’t even consider the U.S. to be “free” anymore, but “mostly free.” It also cites a growing lack of government integrity, due to the “perception of cronyism, elite privilege, and corruption.”

So despite all this cronyism and corruption, Brandus complains that trust in these crony, corrupt institutions is down.

And even as individuals, Americans seem to have changed as well since the dawn of the millennium—and not for the better. People seem scared, distrustful and paranoid today, not just of the outside world, but of each other. Crime is way down since the 1990s, but people think it’s way up. Trust in institutions—the government, big business, the clergy, the media, on and on—is down.

I’m sorry, but people who distrust what Pope Francis says about climate change or borders are being rational. People who trust the current FBI are dangerously gullible. Distrust of institutions is sometimes a very good thing.

Read the full column.

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