The graph above shows a Gallup poll which compares Americans’ confidence in U.S. institutions in the 1970s vs. 2017. Confidence in these institutions, which include the presidency and congress, church and organized religion, banks, schools, and the medical system have all sharply dropped over four decades. My mom was born in 1970, and she was a child in the decade reflected in the first set of statistics. People who are now in their late 50s-60s were teens and came of age during that time. Of course, there was a whole segment of that generation who rebelled against those institutions and occupied the counter-culture, anti-establishment movement of the late 1960s, but as a whole, American institutions were seen in a different light then and held in a different regard.
It would be interesting to see age groups and demographics included in this graph, and I’m wondering if the higher level of confidence in the 1970s reflected the sentiments of the older generation of that time: people who would have been born during the 1920s, who saw the establishment of the New Deal in response to the Great Depression, and who had rallied as a nation in response to two world wars followed by an era of optimism and economic prosperity.
The 1970s were also part of an era before the takeover of neoliberal policies during the Reagan administration of the 1980s; policies which deregulated corporations and corporate activities, catered to the wealthy, and paved the way toward essentially a social, economic, and government system dominated by powerful, profit-motivated entities and their interests.
The results of this are obvious now, and my generation—millennials—in particular demonstrates a mistrust of or disdain for these corrupted institutions. In my last blog post, I spoke about my lack of faith in the establishment. Once again, it would be telling to see age groups and demographics reflected in the data for 2017.
However, the trend is clear: as time goes on, confidence in all institutions is steadily decreasing, and it’s not hard to attribute this to the feeling that the institutions have failed us. We’ve seen through them. Rather than being dedicated to the well-being of humanity, the institutions of government, religion, and even the medical and academic institutions have far too often wielded power to control, suppress, and profit from the population in service to the elite.
Is this trend likely to reverse? I doubt it. I doubt it because, historically, corrupt and powerful institutions rarely have a change of heart. Rarely do they hand over control or allow reforms that impede their agendas. Rather, they give birth to demagogues and fascists; hence, President Trump. Institutions that are not built on truth and integrity, that do not embrace truth and integrity, will fail.
It is my feeling that the world of the future is built on the ruins of the old. Clinging to dying institutions is ultimately futile, because the onward movement of life demands new birth. It demands death and transformation. It demands change.
I have never been interested in saving what is old and decaying, in trying to bolster and uphold what is destined to fall. I’m always interested in what comes next. What will we create? How will we come together? How will we restore the planet and humanity? What will the future look like in another 40 years? Will we have new institutions? New ways of governing, of learning, of producing, of healing?
That future—in 40 years—is within my lifetime. That’s what I want to guide my thinking and acting today.