Against Institutions

I’m trying to read outside my silo, which looks at me and my belief structures a lot. I finally downloaded the substack app the other day, and Robert Reich was proposed to follow.

So, I read his article The Dangerous Anti-Democracy Coalition.

Reich brings up a lot of concerning issues. Thiel, Musk, and so on are oligarchs and demagogues.

What struck me, though, wasn’t his issues with those who surround Trump, or Trump himself, but something that reminded me of lines I myself parroted and even believed.

A former generation of wealthy American conservatives backed candidates like Barry Goldwater because they wanted to conserve American institutions.

Musk, Thiel, Murdoch, and other billionaires now backing the anti-democracy movement don’t want to conserve much of anything…

If we want to guard what’s left of our freedom, we must meet the anti-democracy movement head on with a bold pro-democracy movement that protects the institutions of self-government from oligarchs like Musk and Thiel and neofascists like Trump.

Robert Reich, The Dangerous Anti-Democracy Coalition.

Reich is objecting to his subjects’ objection to his treasured institutions. To be clear, I’m not advocating for Thiel (at least what Reich quoted), nor am I fond of Musk. Trump is something else entirely.

It wasn’t that long ago that Reich (as President Bill Clinton’s Secretary of the Treasury) was lumped alongside those who opposed conservative and/or Republican institutions. Change just a few words, and you have a right-leaning anti-left-leaning statement.

Likely around the end of President Clinton’s last term, I realized that the left and right ends of the US political spectrum used pretty much the exact same meta language. While I didn’t have the concept of meta language at the time, I recognized that by changing only a few words would make an attack or spiel left or right.

I think Reich’s fears about Thiel et al. are somewhat reasonable, and should cause everyone politically right-leaning to pause and reflect.

I also believe that the greatest danger to democracy is not Thiel et al., but the citizens. They have long been disenfranchised, and disengaged even longer. They have been trained to not trust institutions, including media, academia, politicians, even their treasured or preferred ones.

The reason Trump, Thiel, Musk, etc. have been so successful in regard to political motivation is very much because of their brash and noxious behavior that, to many, is anti-institutional.

Where this gets interesting is the recent spate of Pro-Palestinian (though in many cases more pro-Hamas and anti-Israel than actually pro-Palestinian) were…anti-institution. In particular, they were anti-academic-institution, which is one of those peculiar institutions that are treasured particularly on the left, except when certain pet issues come up, then anti-institution wins.

I get confused with that apparent double standard.

There will be those who will agree with Reich because his piece is anti-Trump, Thiel, Musk, etcetera. It is dangerous to be unaware of our tendencies and perspectives when reading an option piece like Reich’s or mine. We don’t read beyond the actual piece, and its context (which includes the author). We are busy attacking (or affirming the attack of) “their” institutions and behaviors, without recognizing that “they” are attacking ours in the same way.

It becomes a matter of argument, not conversation, and thus democracy dies.