We Are a Fish, Rotting From the Head

Glenn Reynolds’ current USA Today column addresses the rapid decline of the United States as a high-trust society, something that sociologists have found to be critical for economic development and security:

[T]he CIA’s “accident” was only the latest in a long rash of “accidental” losses of incriminating information in this administration. The IRS — whose Tea Party-targeting scandal is now over 1,100 days old without anyone being charged or sent to jail — seems to have a habit of ”accidentally” destroying hard drives containing potentially incriminating evidence. It has done so in spite of court orders, in spite of Congressional inquiries and in spite of pretty much everyone’s belief that these “accidents” were actually the deliberate, illegal destruction of incriminating evidence to protect the guilty.

The IRS scandal would have sunk a Republican administration, perhaps leading to impeachment. But the Democratic press is in on the joke, and the Obama administration is set to run out the clock in its usual fashion.

Then there’s Hillary’s email scandal, in which emails kept on a private unsecure server — presumably to avoid Freedom of Information Act disclosures — were deleted. Now emails from Hillary’s IT guy, who is believed to have set up the server, have gone poof.

The only way Hillary will be indicted, as she certainly deserves to be, is if the Democrats decide that she can’t beat Donald Trump–an increasingly likely eventuality–and decide to go with someone else.

“Destroy the evidence, and you’ve got it made,” said an old frozen dinner commercial. But now that appears to be the motto of the United States government.

Sad but true. Worst of all, perhaps, is the way Barack Obama and his Attorneys General, Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, have corrupted the Department of Justice. Time after time, federal judges have found that DOJ lawyers have lied to the courts on behalf to the Obama administration’s political agenda. Paul described the latest instance, and one of the most shocking, here.

Then there is the fact that Barack Obama is a scofflaw. Repeatedly, he has ignored the Constitution and violated federal law, refusing to enforce the nation’s immigration laws, imperiously changing his own Obamacare statute with no legal authority, and so on. Years later, the courts sometimes catch up with him; the administration has lost a number of 9-0 Supreme Court decisions where its lawbreaking was indisputable. But more broadly, the Obama administration’s campaign of lawbreaking and stonewalling has succeeded.

Glenn asks the right question: if our purported leaders are scofflaws, why should the rest of us be honest?

So why do the rest of us bother to obey the law? And, yes, that’s an increasingly serious question.
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[P]eople may obey the law because they think that being law-abiding is an important part of maintaining a viable society. But that’s the kind of law-abiding behavior that’s at risk when people at the top treat the law with unconcealed contempt.

Being law-abiding for its own sake is a traditional part of bourgeois culture, and our ruling class has lately treated the bourgeoisie with contempt as well. Which raises the risk that this contempt will be returned.

It is being returned, as evidenced by the Trump and Sanders candidacies.

America has been — and, for the moment, remains — a high-trust society. In high-trust societies, people extend trust to strangers and follow rules for the most part even when nobody is watching. In low-trust societies, trust seldom extends beyond close family, and everybody cheats if they can get away with it.

High-trust societies are much nicer places to live than low-trust ones. But a fish rots from the head and the head of our society is looking pretty rotten.

Which is why this year’s election is so important. Barack Obama’s legacy must be repudiated, root and branch.

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