When Donald Trump takes the oath of office tomorrow, he'll be standing in the wreckage of shattered institutions. That's true in the sense that the movement that elected him was in large part driven by disgust with some of the dominant institutions of American life. It's also true in the sense that the institutions that once would have blocked someone like Trump from the presidency turned out to be too weak for the task. And it's true in the sense that long before Trump ran for office, Americans' confidence in everything from Congress to banks to the media has been sinking. For years polls have told the same story: People are putting less faith in authority.
Now the polls are telling a new variation on that story. Trump's approval ratings are extraordinarily low for an incoming president, ranging from a high of 44 percent (NBC) down to 37 percent (CBS). Contrast that with Barack Obama, who had 71 percent in NBC's poll as he took office. Or with George W. Bush, who came to power under extremely contentious circumstances but still had 57 percent the first time NBC asked the country how he was doing. (That's not a perfect apples-to-apples comparison, since the network didn't get Bush's first approval rating until March.) Both men's numbers later had their ups and downs, but each launched his presidency with a honeymoon that Trump doesn't seem poised to enjoy.
The public distrust that helped propel Trump into the White House isn't going to go away now that he's there. Americans may yet persuade themselves that Trump is making the nation's institutions great, but for now he's the face of another institution in decline.