Just a couple weeks ago, David French and I had the pleasure of hosting writer and editor Tim Carney on the ‘Ordered Liberty’ podcast to discuss his new book Alienated America. Perhaps more than any book I’ve read since Donald Trump was elected, Tim’s work actually explains why we got Trump.
There is a good reason for his election, and it’s not because of Middle-American racism, as many on the left insist. But it’s much less about media bias and left-wing extremism than some Trump supporters would like us to believe, too. Based on the information Tim collects in his book, the real culprit is the decline of civic society: family, marriage, church, community — the structures that keep the American dream alive. Americans are increasingly, as Robert Putnam put it nearly two decades ago, “bowling alone.” And they are suffering for it.
This is the most compelling insight of the book, and a paradox of sorts. Trump was indeed elected in response to something very real, a sincere feeling among people in dwindling communities across the country that their American dream is dead. They are surely right to feel that way, though it seems unintelligible to those who live in flourishing communities.
But precisely because that feeling exists in those communities primarily as the result of a decline in the institutions of civil society — rather than in direct response to specific policy or economic changes — Trump and his administration cannot possibly promise to be the ultimate solution to their woes. No political agenda, no matter how working-class friendly, and no one man, no matter how much of a populist he might be, can make America great again. In short, government isn’t the best answer to what is, first and foremost, a cultural illness.
Listen to our conversation with Tim here: