A couple of months ago, David Brooks wrote an article lamenting the fact that based on recent polling, including a recent Pew Research Center survey, many Americans no longer have faith in top political figures or the military to keep the U. S. on top in world affairs. My first reaction was, does he think we should be surprised, given the cast of characters currently in charge? But then a friend asked me what I thought of the essay and what Brooks was attempting to convey, and I gave it more thought.
Brooks says that what is happening can be more accurately described as follows: Americans have lost faith in the high politics of global affairs. They have lost faith in the idea that U. S. political and military institutions can do much to shape the world. The real power of the world is not military or political–the power of the state can pale before the power of the swarm of individuals. He calls this “global affairs with the head chopped off”.
Well, if you keep a close watch on world affairs, it certainly appears this way. My take of what he is saying is somewhat a form of what Bill Clinton said–“the era of big government is over”–but it is deeper psychologically in that Brooks senses that popular support for and trust in government at every level is over. This may be well-earned and healthy at some level, but it is troubling from the standpoint that people have lost any confidence that we can do great things, such as go to the moon or win a world war (or any war, for that matter). And the cynicism is so deep that there are no heroes, and when one potentially appears, he or she is subject to immediate destruction. One particular data point in the Pew study is most troubling–40% of baby boomers believe most people can be trusted, but only 19% of millennials believe that.
I don’t know how we turn this around easily, particularly in America, without a complete overhaul of some of our institutions, particularly in education across the board. And it is not primarily an economic or even a political issue, it’s a moral one.