Institutional legitimacy is dead. Now what?

So our so-called president tweets the following, shortly before directing his subjects to go watch the Superbowl. “Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!” Many hearts. Many retweets. This is happening.

Ooookay. Let’s just think for a moment about how Emperor Babyfists’ predecessors throughout history have spoken about the role of the courts. Let’s think about Stalin, Castro, Mao, Franco, Milosevic, Mugabe, Idi Amin, Franco, Fujimori. Let’s consider for a moment how those bad hombres responded to independent or even semi-independent courts and how things turned out.
Political scientists write and talk a great deal about something called “institutional legitimacy.” It’s a really hard thing to attain. Very rare. Sad! It’s actually the exception, historically speaking. Institutions are just shared ideas, and collective faith in them is shockingly fragile. And once they are no longer “legitimate” in the eyes of the populace, it’s all over. You can’t just slap a new coat of paint on them and keep going.

Emperor Babyfists is not the problem. Institutional legitimacy is the problem. Subversion of the rule of law is the problem. “Checks and balances” only exist as another idea. Judicial legitimacy as we have known it isn’t going to exist again in our lifetimes as surely as atmospheric CO2 isn’t going to drop below 400 ppm again in our lifetimes, even if the planet went totally dark tomorrow. We’ve passed the point of no return. I’m not trying to be a bummer, here, but this is just the new reality.

Empires in terminal decline are all the same. It has always been this way. There is always a giant power grab right at the end, as the elites hit the gas as things go over the cliff. Some of it’s psychological, deep in the lizard brain—the essential human denial of death. Some of it’s karmic. Maybe we live in a giant video game simulation played by our alien overlords and this is just how this level of the game ends. Who knows. Doesn’t matter.

We need to think, a lot, about how we are going to adapt to a country with chaotic climate instability, gutted institutions, and a level of economic devastation that has left the vast majority of us in a state of profound paycheck-to-paycheck vulnerability. We need to stop fixating on Babyfists and his cult of personality and think about what community means moving forward. What we need from one another and what we have to offer. And we need to not get too bummed out about it. We need to think, instead, about how we can truly *thrive,* in entirely new-to-us (but not really new at all) ways. Because we can, and we will. We haven’t figured it out just yet, but we will.

Our institutions are not going to save us. They might slow down the collapse, a little, although not at this rate. But in any case this thing is up to us now. As Suzuki Roshi says, “We don’t need to learn to let go. We just need to recognize what is already gone.”