The loss of authority

There were two events over the past week that highlight a growing issue in American society.  Following the deaths of 13 servicemen in Afghanistan, a Marine Corps lieutenant colonel, Stuart Scheller, made an online video in which he criticized his military superiors.  He was promptly relieved of his military duties, and observers were quick to point out that his actions violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Also this past week, the Supreme Court ruled that President Biden's attempt to extend an eviction moratorium under the guise of COVID exigency was unconstitutional.  This could not have surprised the president, as he thought his actions were unconstitutional when he undertook them.  The president had, upon assuming office, taken an oath to defend the Constitution, yet he presumed to violate it anyway.

These two events are simply recent examples of a broader phenomenon: the increasing disregard of previously recognized authority.  The actions of Lieutenant Colonel Scheller and President Biden are part of the same spectrum of disregard as the Portland Police standing idly by while Antifa rioters disrupt a lawful gathering, Nancy Pelosi flouting mask requirements for a public fundraiser, and people increasingly refusing to comply with capricious COVID mandates. 

The observation that all of the people mentioned above publicly defied established authority does not imply that any or all of such actions were either justified or improper.  The broader issue for American society is not that some people are defying authority by either engaging in or tolerating such transgressions.  The crucial point is that the authority of our institutions has been degraded through abuse of those institutions by those having charge of them.  The established institutions of the military are undercut by the politicization of its operations and experiments in social engineering.  The social contract and protection of rights affirmed in the Constitution are degraded when our head of government actively defies them.  The authority of health officials to promulgate regulations for dealing with epidemics is undercut by public officials openly flouting those regulations, and the respect for the rule of law that is essential to a functioning society is corrupted when the officials charged with enforcing those laws, such as district attorneys and municipal politicians, refuse to do so for ideological reasons.

The widespread disregard of norms and authorities is an inevitable consequence of corruption.  The people who have assumed control of important institutions such as the military, public health bureaucracies, educational institutions, and law enforcement have allowed insular interests, ideological fantasy, and personal ambition to weaken those institutions and destroy the associated authority.  It is understandable, even if not excusable, that persons such as Lieutenant Colonel Scheller should feel compelled to defy an institution when the people who were entrusted with the care of that institution seem to have so little regard for it.  It is not surprising that people should show less regard for civic responsibilities when elected officials openly infringe explicit rights.  It is understandable when people refuse to subject their children to mask-wearing when the ruling elites show contempt for the same practice in their own activities.

The United States is encountering a crisis of authority for the simple reason that the people entrusted with that authority have abused it.

Graphic credit: Anti-Corruption & Governance Center, CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

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