Kevin Williamson of National Review Online spots a disturbing trend in American public life.

Scholars of government think a great deal about trust, consensus, legitimacy, and other related issues. One way of thinking about that whole batch of things is to consider the question of cooperation. High-trust societies tend to be high-cooperation societies and to have high levels of consensus about the direction of policy and few if any questions about legitimacy. Trust is a key ingredient in the secret sauce of the happy Nordic countries and in well-governed places such as Switzerland and Canada. When you have lots of trust and lots of cooperation, you can run programs more effectively, administer agencies with more confidence, and count on both the public and the bureaucrats to conduct themselves with a reasonable level of honesty and scrupulousness. When that succeeds, it produces a virtuous cycle: Working well creates the conditions for working better; trust and trustworthiness buttress one another; the prestige that accrues to administrative work attracts the sort of people who add to that prestige.

When trust fails, the virtuous circle turns vicious, and then the state has to find other ways to encourage or compel cooperation in order to function. The spirit of nationalism is cultivated by Beijing and by Budapest to serve that purpose — by emphasizing a common national identity … and a sense of solidarity and shared destiny, the state can achieve a high level of buy-in and consensus, at least for a time, in spite of corruption or incompetence. The socialist ideology of the USSR served much the same purpose. …

… From that point of view, it is not surprising that the two poles of American politics have drifted toward socialism and nationalism at a time when the effectiveness and trustworthiness of our public institutions is in decline.