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Historically Low Approval Ratings of Institutions Show the U.S. Regime in Crisis

Two new polls show a massive loss of faith in institutions across the U.S. This loss of faith underlines the depth of crisis in the U.S. regime.

Ezra Brain

July 11, 2022
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José Luis Magaña / AFP / Getty Images
Photo: José Luis Magaña / AFP / Getty Images

Only 36 percent of Americans believe that the U.S. system of government is sound, according to a new poll from Monmouth University. This number is a significant drop from previous polls which showed that even as recently as 2020, 52 percent felt the system was sound. This historic drop — down from 62 percent of responders who said that the system was sound in 1980 — is the result of sustained decrease in Americans’ faith in the government over the past several years.

A recent Gallup poll which measures faith in 16 different institutions — including governmental institutions as well as institutions more broadly defined such as the medical system and small businesses — backed up these findings. The poll found that the average level of faith in institutions is at an all-time low and that faith in 11 of the institutions that they measure has dropped significantly. The biggest drops from 2021 to 2022 were trust in the Presidency and the Supreme Court, likely a direct response to the ongoing political crisis of the regime. Interestingly, the only institution that saw no decline in faith at all on that poll was organized labor. These polls show an increasingly prominent crisis of the institutions, where more and more of the general population are breaking with their faith in these institutions which weaken their ability to control areas of society. 

Other signs of this crisis can be seen in the historically low approval rating of the Supreme Court. Only 25 percent of Americans believe the Supreme Court is doing a good job and a majority believe that the court is driven by politics — an important rebuttal to the historic misunderstanding of the court as an apolitical institution. Recent far-right decisions, like the overturning of Roe v. Wade, have only intensified public dissatisfaction with the court as an institution, with “Abort the Court” and other similar slogans being common rallying cries at protests and online. Even members of the liberal intelligentsia — typically key defenders of the ‘institutions of American Democracy’ — have had to attack the court as an institution. Vox published a “Case Against the Supreme Court,” Jamelle Bouie of The New York Times declared that “the Supreme Court is the Final Word on Nothing,” and Ezra Klein said that Americans need to question the legitimacy of the Supreme Court. 

This anger at the Supreme Court comes amidst an incredibly unpopular Congress (82 percent disapprove) and president (59 percent disapprove). In addition, 40 percent of Americans don’t believe Biden won the election. These results show that the political regime as a whole and as parts is despised by the majority.  

In the days before Joe Biden was sworn in — amidst a huge national crisis arising from the wreckage of the Trump presidency and the chaos of January 6 — I wrote that Biden was “taking power with a set of very specific tasks from the bourgeoisie with the primary one among them being to re-legitimize the institutions of the American state.” Essentially, Biden was handpicked by the ruling class as a response to Trump, under the theory that “Uncle Joe” could restore Americans’ faith in institutions that had increasingly been revealed to be institutions of racism, oppression, and the preservation of capitalist exploitation rather than the idyllic democratic notions that the bourgeoisie had historically tried to present them as. To combat the awakenings that resulted from Trump, the pandemic, and Black Lives Matter, the Democrats were able to win a majority of the bourgeoisie to Biden’s campaign, arguing that he would bring stability, demobilize social movements, and restore legitimacy to institutions of the state both domestically and internationally. 

This last point is important. Biden’s task was not merely to restore faith in the presidency, the courts, elections, and various other domestic institutions but also to attempt to reassert American hegemony on the world stage. Trump’s “America First” approach was in firm opposition with the neoliberal/neoconservative project of building and maintaining active imperialist control through international alliances between imperialist powers — through institutions like NATO, the IMF, etc. This America First orientation led to Trump withdrawing or distancing the U.S. from several of these organizations. He openly, for example, criticized NATO and apparently considered withdrawing from it all together.  These moves weakened the United States’ already declining position abroad and left Biden with a mess on the international stage to contend with, in addition to the crises at home. 

In this task, Biden has succeeded far more than he has with the domestic challenges. Specifically as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Biden has been able to reposition the U.S. as a leader internationally, rebuild U.S. forces within NATO, and convince other member states to rearm themselves — all in advance of future conflicts with Russia and China. Congress has increased military budgets, allowing Biden more resources with which to maneuver internationally. In addition, public support for NATO is incredibly high (65 percent support) and the main opposition to Biden’s militaristic approach in Europe is coming from the Trumpist right — who question why funds are being sent to Ukraine in the midst of an economic crisis at home — rather than from the Left. In this task, Biden has been a success and has advanced American imperialist power in significant ways. 


On the domestic front, of course, the situation is very different. As described above, domestic institutions are increasingly unpopular and Biden’s presidency seems to be in crisis with the Democrats likely headed for a midterms blood bath — likely worsened by their embarrassing and politically inept response to the overturning of Roe. The seeming impending electoral doom for the Democrats is largely a response to the faltering economy and high inflation, which impact the average working person on a daily basis. Biden and the Democrats have been relatively impotent on the question of inflation, choosing instead to largely leave it to the Federal Reserve to figure out. With many economists predicting a coming recession, economic anxiety and anger at the president who was supposed to bring us a return to prosperity are at a high. 

The honeymoon offered to Biden after January 6 has ended and, since that honeymoon period drew to a close, Biden and the Democrats have been unable to pass any significant piece of their legislative agenda — engaging in politically costly compromises to weaken the already-milquetoast reforms they were proposing and then still failing to pass them. One important area of failure in the legislative arena was the PRO Act, which was intended in part to co-opt the new union wave into the folds of the Democratic Party by making the Democrats appear to be the party fighting for union rights. But they weren’t even able to pass that, showing yet again a legislative disunity which only underlines their inability to address the current crisis. In this context, any hopes that the Democrats may have had that the war in Ukraine, anger at the Supreme Court, or the January 6 hearings would bolster support for Biden has been dashed on the rocks of reality. 

The Two Parties in a Moment of Institutional Crisis

In this context, it seems likely that the crisis within the Democratic Party — between the progressive, establishment, and conservative wings of the party, which has effectively ground all of Biden’s legislative agenda to a halt due to the conservative wing represented by Manchin and Sinema being able to veto any legislation they want — will re-emerge in an even greater way. The tensions of the current period of the Biden administration has been primarily between the establishment wing and the conservative wing, with the progressives giving political support to the establishment. This is due to the progressive wing being in relative retreat and alliance with the establishment since the 2020 primary fight between Sanders and Biden. 

Facing a political massacre as the political face of unpopular institutions, Democratic politicians will have to come up with a strategy to stop the bleeding and find someone to blame for the consequences of their inability to resolve the capitalist crisis. For the establishment wing, it seems clear that the strategy will be, once again, to run against Trumpism (leaning on the January 6 hearings) and attempt to win moderates to the party by ditching “activist issues.” As an example of this, Hillary Clinton recently said in an interview that trans rights (which are under massive attacks by the advancing right) shouldn’t be a priority for the Democrats. Some Democrats have even taken out TV ads trying to distance themselves from the “Defund the Police” slogan. 

Members of the progressive wing, by contrast, are trying to appear more confrontational in hopes that this will make them appear separate from the regime that they currently serve in. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has demanded that Supreme Court justices be investigated for lying under oath surrounding statements that were made about not overturning Roe during the confirmation hearings for several of the Justices who then voted to overturn Roe. Cori Bush aggressively pursued Biden passing climate protections via Executive Order and Rashida Tlaib joined with an activist group to call for more transparency around water policy in Detroit. Several members of the Squad have also been very vocal on social media with fiery statements denouncing various court decisions in recent weeks. If the Democrats do end the year as the minority in Congress, it seems likely that the Progressives may return to their pre-2020 strategy of openly arguing with the establishment wing as an attempt to delineate themselves from the sinking ship of the Democratic Party leadership; though it seems likely that, when push comes to shove, they will toe the line and play their part of “saving” the Democratic Party by giving them a left cover as they did after the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections.

The Republicans, in the current moment, are on a high, with their crisis becoming more latent than it was even a few months ago. A new approach of “Trumpism without Trump” has emerged, marrying some of Trump’s populism and rhetorical approach with more traditional Republican approaches to foreign policy as well as some hyper-reactionary positions on issues like abortion, trans rights, and immigration. This approach was piloted in the Virginia gubernatorial race in 2021 to great success and has been rolled out to several states since then. 

Key figures of Trumpism without Trump include Gregg Abbott and likely 2024 frontrunner Ron DeSantis (who is polling neck and neck with Trump in early 2024 Republican primary polls). Both men have been able to tap into some of Trump’s base while also keeping better relations with the party establishment, and have made significantly more moves toward the socially conservative “Mike Pence wing” of the party than Trump ever did. For all his bluster and reactionary agenda, Trump was always relatively uninterested in typical Republican bugbears of abortion and queer rights — focusing his hate instead on immigrants and taking a significantly different approach to foreign policy than the mainstream Republican Party favoring protectionism over globalization and openly critizing important institutions of global hegemony like the WHO, NATO, and the UN. Abbott, DeSantis, and others in this new moment in the Republican Party have brought a Trumpist approach to those issues to, from their perspective, great success, with some of the most oppressive policies against trans people being enacted in several states and Roe being overturned. In this, it is clear how Trumpism without Trump has been able to unite the various warring wings of the party — social oppression for the Pence wing, right-wing populism and anti-immigration for the Trump wing, and a more traditional Republican approach to foreign policy and governance for the Romney wing. This new moment of the Republican party positions it well to act as the political representation for the current moment of right wing advance. 

Whether this moment of decreased tensions within the party will continue or not is, of course, an open question. Trump is still a major player and  it is unclear whether or not he will run again and, if he doesn’t, whether he will throw his support behind another leader of the party. In addition, most of Trumpism without Trump is occurring on the state level with only a handful of Trumpist politicians serving in Congress. After November, this will likely no longer be the case — there is talk of a potential far-right Squad being formed in the House with Marjorie Taylor-Greene and the new Trumpists being elected — which will bring Trumpism into direct conflict with the Mitch McConnell establishment.  In addition, despite not being leaders of the institutions of the state, the unpopularity will also have an impact on the Republicans as any potential explosions of rage on the streets will be largely directed at them which could force them into a more defensive position. Additionally, many economists predict that another recession is coming which would greatly impact the political terrain on which both parties operate. Regardless, it seems clear that the current crisis benefits the Republicans far more than it does the Democrats.

As the two main capitalist parties fight amongst themselves for who should steer a sinking ship, the working class and oppressed are more and more enraged at the institutions that got us here. In the third year of a pandemic with yet another “once in a generation” financial crisis coming, a constantly worsening climate, and massive restrictions on our right to bodily autonomy, there is a real rage at the current situation that, so far, has remained relatively latent — though with some meaningful explosions such as Striketober, the recent protests against the Supreme Court, etc.. Yet the powder kegs are being assembled. It is only a matter of time until a match is lit. 

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Ezra Brain

Ezra is a NYC based theatre artist and teacher.

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