A Problem with Authority


Americans have always had a problem with authority.


Even before Americans were Americans, there was a sneering dislike of those who told us how to act. The Pilgrim Fathers of the Plymouth colony exchanged relative comfort and civilization for potential starvation and death just to keep their religious congregation from being assimilated into the English state religion. The American Revolution is one of the most influential and important revolutions in modern history. The counter-culture of the 1970’s — the rebellion to the rebellion — was centered around San Francisco, California.


Americans don’t like being told what to do, sometimes to our detriment.


A recent Gallup poll suggests that even in America’s most precious bastions of tribalism — our political parties — dissent and rebellion may be stirring.


According to the poll, 42 percent of Americans consider themselves political independents. Of the remainder, 29 percent consider themselves Democrats and 26 percent identify as Republicans. This is the fifth year in a row that at least 40 percent of the population has considered themselves political independents.


With the overall public sentiment of exhaustion and frustration around congressional gridlock and the historic distrust and disillusionment with politics, a flight from the traditional centers of power isn’t surprising.


Since 2011, we’ve seen the rise of the Occupy movement, a nationwide backlash against the police and the birth of Black Lives Matter, students protesting for reform at a variety of higher education institutions and the veneration of those who make it their business to undermine the powers that be. Jon Stewart left “the Daily Show” and only needs three miracles before being canonized. Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are essentially anti-candidates. They are the embodiments of public backlash.


Even outside the news rebellion is in the air. Making a Murderer — a Netflix documentary examining the case of a potentially wrongly accused criminal suffering at the hands of an allegedly corrupt legal system — has captivated not only the public, but celebrities and the news media, prompting a number of follow up stories and even a dead-on-arrival White House petition to free the subject of the film from prison.


The dissent isn’t just a liberal phenomenon. The Tea Party was borne of inter-party rebellion among the Republicans. The Cliven Bundy standoff and the still developing standoff in Oregon with Bundy’s relatives are extreme examples of borderline-armed revolt against the government. As mass shootings grow in number and publicity and the gun control debate continues to ramp up, private citizen militia movements are gaining popularity. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, militias in the U.S. have grown by a third.


While some of voters are abandoning their identities as Republicans and Democrats, it seems at least some have done so not to move toward the center, but closer to the fringe.


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