Election 2016

"The Surprising Weakness of Invincible Institutions": GOP Indiana Primary Edition

From the Roman Empire to oil-rich Venezuela to Kodak to the GOP, big things go bust all the time. And that's OK.


Today isn't just the (likely) day that Donald Trump blows Ted Cruz and John Kasich out of the water in the Indiana GOP primary, it's likely the day that marks the modern Republican Party's zenith of power at all levels of government.

Despite holding historically high numbers of seats in Congress, state legislatures, and governors' mansions, it's clear that the Party of Lincoln is undergoing a massive transformation that may or may not actually end it but will definitely give birth to a new set of policies and priorities as different from those of the Goldwater-Reagan era version as that version was to the iteration it replaced. What's the catchphrase in Slaughterhouse Five? "And so it goes…"

In his USA Today column, Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit.com points to an interesting essay by Richard Fernandez in which the author observes what he calls "the surprising weakness of invincible institutions."


From grandiose examples such as the western Roman Empire to less-glittering states (think Puerto Rico, Venezueala, and Illinois, all of which are in various stages of economic collapse), Fernandez notes that all these things fell apart in what seemed to be quick strokes. Look at the Washington DC Metro for another example, he writes, or the fact that, "A study by the Hoover Institution covering 97% of all state and local governments found that politicians have little or no ability to meet their pension promises" (I'd hazard even fewer have any intention of meeting those promises). "Bureaucracies don't even operate in their own sustainable interests," notes Fernandez. He's talking about public or state bureaucracies, but the same is true of private ones, too, as the countless tombstones in the corporate-elephant graveyard of super-dominant companies can attest (A&P! Kodak! AT&T! Sears! Microsoft! Apple! …)

Reynolds notes that the United States is not the Roman Empire and that we are unlikely to experience the same kind of epic fail that ended in the sacking of Rome (whew). As important, he stresses that the breakdown the status quo also often results in better things:

When the Western Roman Empire collapsed, ordinary people were often better off because they were freed from the empire's oppressive taxes and regulations (like the rules that sons of soldiers, civil servants and workers in government factories, among others, must enter the trades of their fathers). Many people in the provinces welcomed the barbarians. The new governments were actually better at what governments are for, as [Joseph A.] Tainter writes: "The smaller Germanic kingdoms that succeeded Roman rule in the West were more successful at resisting foreign incursions (e.g., Huns and Arabs). … The economic prosperity of North Africa actually rose under the Vandals, but declined again under Justinian's reconquest when Imperial taxes were reimposed." Likewise, Venezuelans will probably be better off when they eventually get a new government. They could hardly be worse.

David Deeble

As someone with no particular stake in the continuance of the current iteration of the Republican Party—a group that relentlessly and recklessly pursued truly disastrous actions during the George W. Bush years and the Obama interregnum, and continues to feature two top candidates whose top priority is to forcibly remove 12 million (their count) illegal aliens whose only known crime is coming to the country Trump and Cruz say is an irresistible magnet of greatness and wonder—I view its collapse as likely to be liberating, at least from a libertarian perspective. 

Indeed, the Democratic Party, another hidebound and ancient and seemingly invincible barnacle on the hull of the American ship of state, is undergoing its own slow-motion suicide as it moves one step closer to nominating the least-appealing politician of the past generation. Of course it is: Like the GOP, the interest groups (unions, post-Cold War and post-Iraq military contractors, heavy industry reps, suburban whites, etc.) each of these political coalitions was created to serve either no longer exist or only exist under such different circumstances that alliances created in 1945, 1964, or even 2000 no longer make sense.

Things may well have to get worse before they get better and I'm not exactly a burn-it-down-to-the-ground sort of character, but there are few things less worth doing than eking out another status-quo day knowing you really need fundamental change to move into a better future. A president from a party with which fewer than 30 percent of Americans identify who wins an election with less than 50 percent of the vote will not be much of a threat. But a Trump-Clinton election that is a live version of that South Park episode just may be the start of a newer, better America.