Summary: The Boy Scouts has filed for bankruptcy. It is another American institution gone down the drain. One by one they fall, each with their own story. We cannot stop this larger process until we see it.
Also see the Wikipedia entry for Boy Scouts Sexual Abuse Cases.
Like the Roman Catholic Church and U.S.A. Gymnastics, another American institution has fallen after decades of incompetence at its core mission. Even after the problems became unmistakable, they were unable to make adequate reforms. These are all large institutions, able to tap the finest experts in management and law – but instead they stumbled along cloaked in ignorance until they fell off a cliff.
That is the story of the Boy Scouts. This problem was know from its early days. It grew. By the 1960s it had grown serious, but BSA’s leaders not only did nothing – but also continued to cover for sexual predators in their midst. Its Board of Directors was stocked with America’s blue-chip elites. Their failure is the decay of America in microcosm.
Only in the mid-1980s did they introduce protective measures, slowly rolled out. Only in 2003 did BSA require criminal background checks for new leaders. Only in 2008 were existing leaders required to undergo background checks.
As a Scout leader for over 15 years (starting in 1999), these precautions were taken seriously in some units (fanatically so in mine) and less so in others. Congress insisted that Scouting was a decentralized organization, which made strict training and evaluation of adult leaders difficult to implement. Their national leadership was never high-powered, and proved inadequate to lead Scouting to the necessary changes.
Our institutions are falling like dominoes.
It is vital that we not look at each of these failing institutions as an isolated instance. This is a problem sweeping across American: institutions failing their core missions – and when that becomes evident, they cannot repair themselves. I described this in A new, dark picture of America’s future.
My father’s death certificate has words that well apply to us today: “failure to thrive following broad organ failure.” America is experiencing something similar: the broad failure of its institutions. No matter how strong our society, cascading institutional failure can destroy it. De Tocqueville describes a similar situation in The Ancien Régime and the Revolution (although, as you will see below, the French Revolution resulted from a narrower set of problems).
Among the first to die was the Department of State, castrated during the mad “Who Lost China” wars of the 1950s. Internal regeneration has repeatedly failed. There has been no externally-driven repairs because no administration has been willing to commit sufficient political capital to fixing it (because the benefits would flow to their successors). So Presidents shifted some of State’s functions to DoD, and built a clunky ineffective workaround to State in the National Security Council. This has destroyed the balance of our foreign relations between diplomacy and force. Trump has worked to wreck the remains of State, while funneling cash into our grossly over-swollen military machinery (details here).
Since then institution after institution has broken: schools, governments, corporations, the military, law enforcement, scientific institutions, etc. The stories of their decay dominate the news. I do not refer to the usual stories of malfeasance and incompetence, omnipresent in history. Heaven should not be our standard of comparison. Functioning is the key.
Our military can’t win wars. Our police wage a mad war on drugs, looting citizens through civil asset forfeiture. Many of our grade schools can’t teach their students the three R’s. Science is gripped by the replication crisis, a rot whose dimensions are far larger than most believe. Professional associations abandon their standards and obligation to protect us. Our major corporations are dying (Boeing is the latest to crash). Heath care and higher education are expensive low-performance messes that we can no longer afford. Congress will do anything except govern. The President is the tweeter-in-chief.
The dominoes have toppled in slow-motion during the past few generations. They continue to fall.
Each institution’s decay acts like a popped rivet in a ship’s hull: It puts more pressure on the surrounding rivets. If the stress continues, a chain reaction begins and the hull disintegrates. Ignore the chatter about trivia on social media and in the news. Listen, and hear the rivets cracking in the structure of our society, like the roar of popcorn on a campfire.
This shows our government’s inability to heal from damage, an early sign of senescence in an organism or organization (infirmity from old age).
The last sentence is the critical one. We need to understand the root cause of this problem. My best guess is this: America has grown old. Eventually, something new will rise from its pyre. Let’s make sure it is better, not worse.
For More Information
For another example: here are some simple reforms that could drastically improve America’s colleges. What are the odds of any of these implemented in the next few years – or decade? I’ll bet on near-zero. Our institutions cannot reform themselves, and we lack mechanisms to force reforms.
- What comes after the Constitution? Can we see the outline of a “Mark 3” version of the USA?
- The Coming of a New American Republic – by James V. DeLong.
- A third American regime will arise from the ashes of the present one.
- Lewis Lapham explains why America needs a Third Republic.
- We’ve worked through all 5 stages of grief for the Republic. Now, on to The New America!
- After Independence Day, look to America after the Republic.
- This is why we’re weak. Here’s how we can become strong.
Books explaining what happened to American politics
Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? by Thomas Frank.