Rebuilding American Institutions Starts with Strong and Respectful Leaders
Every president has had their fair share of mistakes and slip ups in foreign affairs. Each president is remembered both for their finest moments and their lesser ones. President Biden’s recent trip to the Middle East, however, was more than just a minor misstep and instead was a bigger example of an erosion of norms surrounding the presidency. Upon arriving in Saudi Arabia, President Biden opted for a fist bump between him and Mohammad bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, rather than a traditional handshake. And this wasn’t the first time—a few days earlier, the president fist bumped Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid after walking off Air Force One in Israel.
Once a respected institution, an icon of freedom leading the Western world, the American presidency has devolved into a position that is no longer respected by the rest of the world, at least while Joe Biden is in office. This has dire consequences not only for conducting affairs on the world stage but also as a trickle-down effect to how Americans respect our longstanding political institutions.
Dr. Yuval Levin’s book, A Time to Build: From Family and Community to Congress and the Campus, How Recommitting to Our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream explores the recent decline in respect for American institutions. Dr. Levin writes that Congress operates as a platform for individuals, rather than a collective body trying to pass bipartisan legislation. The American public has seen this playout in the last few years over social media from both sides of the aisle. The recent Dobbs decision has led for calls to abolish the Supreme Court, with pro-choice advocates calling it an illegitimate institution simply because it published a decision they didn’t agree with. Democratic members of Congress have supported protestors in their harassment of Justice Kavanaugh, both at his house and while eating dinner out with his family.
What does this say to the rest of the world, that our leaders are stooping to the level of elementary school playground antics? What does it say about the American government that rather than do their job properly, the legislative branch is supporting a complete overhaul of the judicial one? With our leaders’ constant fighting on social media, claims that the next political crisis will lead to the end of democracy as we know it, and general disrespect for the office regardless of who is serving in it, it’s no wonder that Americans are following their example.
Whether the decline in respect for the presidency started during the Trump administration, as the Left claims, or during the Biden Administration with his repeated failed press conferences, stumbling over words, and confusion at times, the American public no longer looks to the presidency as a beacon of hope in dark times. President Biden’s current approval rating is 31%, which says a lot about how desperately Americans need a strong leader and how without a change in action, respect for the presidency will only decline even further.
America has a long road ahead to rebuild its institutions into the respected place they once were. Dr. Levin writes writes in his book that at their best, institutions serve as molds of character. The American public is more politically divided than ever before and could use a refresher course in engaging in civil dialogue, respect for one another’s beliefs, and respect for American institutions. If America wants to be respected on the world stage, that fight starts here at home with Americans respecting their leaders and leaders responding with more respect for the institutions they serve. Engaging in respectful dialogue, honoring the Constitution, leading with strength and hope rather than with a victimhood mindset- these are all areas where public officials can restore the trust and respect of Americans.
The Left and Right each have different visions of what the American Dream looks like and the best way to govern the American people. Regardless of what definition they’re working towards, restoring trust in our institutions will lead to, at the very least, a restoration of respectful dialogue and respect for the people in positions of authority. While waiting until Election Day to elect better, more respectful leaders is one solution, President Biden still has just over two years left in office. The journey to restoring trust in and respect for institutions can start tomorrow, but only if our leaders believe in it.