Good Friday Morning! I was at a CLE event this week and glanced at my phone halfway through, and the number of news alerts I’d seen in those two hours was astonishing. They’re calling it “Black Tuesday,” for Trump, after the deluge of legal news. Paul Manafort convicted of eight counts, Michael Cohen pleading guilty to eight counts, Cohen flipping on Trump, and we finally learned that Mollie Tibbets, the missing Iowa student was murdered by an illegal alien.
I’ve got a Conservative Institute column coming out on the Cohen situation. The Manafort conviction is interesting insofar that it provides a guilty plea that Mueller could use to squeeze more information out of Manafort. But without Mueller’s final decision, it’s hard to read the Manafort case concerning Trump.
This week I wrote out some thoughts on our collapsing social institutions in the age of #MeToo and the allegations emanating from the Catholic Church sex abuse case in Pennsylvania.
Aside from the Conservative Institute, you can also find me this week with a column at Ricochet.com. Unlike last time, this piece is for members only of Ricochet: You can join Ricochet here. And I do recommend their ever-growing network of podcasts, which you can find on all popular podcast platforms. They have a show for every topic you can imagine, and the list continues to grow.
My piece this week: The guardrails of American democracy (subscription required). I received positive feedback to the segment I wrote last week about there being a lack of guardrails on American democracy. So I broke it out into its piece, fleshed out some sections, and gave it its article over at Ricochet.
New this week at the Conservative Institute
Trump stripped former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance. Does he have that power? I walk through the applicable laws, and the potential case Brennan could bring against Trump. It’s one of the few times I disagree with David French.
The OIG for the VA released a report castigated the system for dropping veterans off rolls and decreasing the number of providers available. It’s a story too few people are talking about, and I go through some of the report highlights.
The new Bowling Alone
There was a book that came out at the turn of the millennium, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, by Robert Putnam. It was an instant classic in the political non-fiction space and gets discussed in political science classes to this day.
In it, Putnam describes the community capital of America, that is the various forms of social institutions that form a community. And he observes through statistical data that Americans were dropping out of many community organizations. Groups that once formed the communal backdrop for local communities were beginning to disappear.
Putnam uses a variety of social institutions, like labor unions, Parent Teacher Associations, Boy and Girl Scouts, fraternal organizations like the Elk club, Lions Club, Rotary, Freemasons, and many other groups. Each club was losing members and shrinking quickly from the 1950’s forward.
As an anecdote and the explanation for the title, Putnam uses bowling as an example. Bowling is a cooperative game where people take turns, form leagues, and interact with each other. But bowling also declined in that period, permanently leaving Americans to “bowl alone.”
Putnam suggested that more people needed to study the problem, and suggested that technology was the main culprit. Television, internet, and other things provided a form of entertainment, while also isolating people. Instead of increasing community in an ever-connected age, people were more isolated.
Avi Woolf, a smart follow on Twitter, made an insightful observation recently:
I honestly wonder how much of the Bowling Alone was a silent response to abuse and coverup in various institutions?
In other words, in our #MeToo era, how much of the shrinking of social institutions is because those very institutions have abused so many people?
You don’t have to go far to find potential evidence.
- Distrust in news media at all time lows
- Hollywood’s corruption
- The Catholic Church’s abuse scandal
- Destruction of the family (divorce and shrinking marriage rates)
If you got abused by one of these social institutions, the fraternal clubs, or maybe had parents who were, and left them, why would you ever go back? Every single industry or sector in America is seemingly affected by the #MeToo movement alone, where people point to people or institutions that harmed them.
The Catholic Sex abused scandal in the state of Pennsylvania is so appalling, it almost demands the entire Catholic Church get investigated for misconduct. It’s more than just a few priests; it’s systemic.
And the most troubling part: these social institutions got away with their misconduct for decades. And now, in a few years, all of the sudden these institutions are getting the light shined on them in dark, hidden places revealing a deep moral rot.
You’ll notice as well; I’m ignoring all forms of political or government corruption, we’re only focusing on social institutions that build our communities.
Shifting who holds power
Conservatives and libertarians often make a critique of expansive government power by saying that state power is too broad and extensive to have any impact on the local level. The only way to positively help people is to reduce government power and return it to the states and local governments, and rely on private social institutions.
But that solution falls flat when those same social institutions are responsible for the extensive abuse of their communities. You can’t say to a person to seek help from thoroughly corrupt and abusive local communities.
And I think this level of abuse and misconduct partially explains why we’ve witnessed such a surge towards big government as the overarching savior of everyone’s ills.
Because even with the amount of corruption in politics, there’s still a veneer of accountability to our public institutions. Politicians have to rely on voters, they can still get held accountable by prosecutors or the media, and it’s possible to enact change through legislation.
It’s hard to see how any of these social institutions have had any accountability for the last century.
And please don’t misread me here, I’m not saying every social institution is rotten to the core. Many great groups do incredible good in their communities. But what I am saying is that the bad social institutions have been far less accountable than their elected counterparts, which has given sway to the argument that government is morally superior.
If you take this backdrop and combine it with the technological and information age, you produce a newly atomized culture. One where people get connected like never before but are still alone.
The challenge for conservatives and libertarians is finding a way to resuscitate local communities and institutions that restore the power of neighborhoods. Until then, people will continue to view their government as more powerful, relatable, and usable than their social institutions.
It’s essential to take up this fight because, on the left, the response to collapsing social institutions is to replace them with government and socialism. Instead of rebuilding a community, they’d replace it with progressive-direct government programs. And until social institutions get reformed, progressives and socialists have a stronger argument.
Links of the week
What to Make of the Cohen Plea and Manafort Convictions – Andrew McCarthy, National Review
Jeremy Corbyn said British ‘Zionists’ have ‘no sense of English irony despite having lived here all their lives’ and ‘need a lesson’ while giving a speech alongside Islamic extremists at a conference publicised by Hamas’ military wing – The Daily Mail
Trump loyalist Duncan Hunter joins Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort on growing list of early supporters felled by scandal: For so many of the political and legal problems that plague this White House, the president has only himself to blame. – Noah Rothman, NBCThink
If Robert Mueller is Joseph McCarty, Trump is as guilty as sin – Jonathan V. Last, The Weekly Standard
“We need to know the sex. If it’s a girl we are going to terminate it” – The Sydney Morning Herald
Why Illegal-Immigrant Crime Can Be Particularly Painful – David French, National Review
Asia Argento Proves, Once Again, That Women Are Human Beings: No gender has a monopoly on hypocrisy or harm. – Bari Weiss, The New York Times
China has its very own Jim Crow system that’s mostly gone unnoticed in America. – Jonah Goldberg, National Review
Rand Paul, Russian Stooge – Stephen F. Hayes, The Weekly Standard
The con man in the cardinal’s cap – Hugh Hewitt, The Washington Post
Satire piece of the week
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Over a year into her incredibly long tenure in the Trump administration, Sarah Sanders has finally resigned after a tense, awkward White House press briefing in which she was forced to defend recent comments made by the president in which he claimed The Last Jedi was the best Star Wars film “by a long shot.”
Sanders has had to defend extremely controversial comments made by the president for many months, but finally cracked under the pressure of having to defend Trump’s latest claim.
The White House press secretary was visibly frustrated throughout the briefing as reporters grilled her on Trump’s obviously indefensible comments, before finally screaming at the reporters gathered and announcing that she quit. “Trump absolutely is correct in his, uh, in his statements that The Last Jedi is the best… you know what? I can’t do this anymore. Trump’s a frakkin’ liar. I can’t believe he thinks Last Jedi is better than any of the original trilogy. I mean, the prequels, yeah, OK, you might have an argument there. But if you think TLJ is better than Empire, I just can’t in good conscience serve on this administration anymore. I QUIT!”
Thanks for reading!