Blogger Andrew Sullivan is back, and his latest offering in New York magazine is a doozy. Here’s a quick (and predictable) synopsis: Donald Trump is an existential threat to the American system of constitutional order.
Trump Derangement Syndrome gets tiring, even from a sharp guy like Sullivan. But T-Man Sully does get one thing right about the Donald and our fragile Republic. Citing Plato, he argues that the populist swell that propelled Trump to the GOP nomination is a real danger to something our country is losing supply of: legitimate authority.
I know what you’re thinking: Talk of “legitimate authority” usually comes from puritan witch-burners or Stalinists. It’s true that if taken too far, authority can corrupt. But as sociologist Philip Rieff wrote in his book The Triumph of the Therapeutic, the culture before our modern era “was embedded in a consensus of ‘shalt nots.’” The America of yesteryear had “creedal hedges” in place around “impulses of independence or autonomy” that detracted from “communal purpose.” Our country used to have a shared set of standards regarding sexuality, religion, race, and working life. It wasn’t perfect; but at least it kept grown men out of the little girls’ room.
Those informal limits are long gone. Explanations are legion for the collapse; yet one factor in particular stands out: A lack of gatekeepers on truth and knowledge.