Hating Big Tech Can Unite America
In the 1970s everybody started hating government, which didn’t work out well. In the 2020s everybody has started hating Facebook: huzzah!
Americans have made a defining specialty of mistrusting excessive and unjust economic and political power. It’s a sentiment that periodically becomes acute and erupts. It erupted and became the war for independence in 1776, erupted and became the war between the states in 1861, erupted around 1900 into overlapping political movements (populism, progressivism, antitrust) that led to the New Deal, reforming and saving U.S. capitalism.
The last spectacular and consequential explosion of this American fear and loathing of concentrated power happened in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Much of that was directed at the government — and it was bipartisan, trans-ideological, a simultaneously left-countercultural and right-wing reactionary habit that grew and spread and found new expressions.
The Vietnam War and military draft and brutal policing and the war on drugs were one set of reasons to start despising government. For some white people, the new laws giving black Americans full citizenship were another. The increase in violent crime in the 60s and 70s (and beyond) represented a failure of government — and also prompted modest federal gun control laws, which provided gun fetishists a powerful new pretext to fear and loathe government. And then came the white-collar crime spree of President Nixon and his minions known as Watergate.
Back in 1964, when a gold-standard biennial academic survey asked Americans one of its questions — did they “trust the government in Washington to do what is right just about always, most of the time, or only some of the time?” — 77% said they did always or most of the time. By 1974, that trust-government cohort had shriveled to 36%.
But what people forget is that initially, this eruption of anti-Establishment mistrust and antagonism extended to big business as well as big government. A different survey back then asked people every year if they thought “business tries to strike a fair balance between profits and the interests of the public.” In 1968, 70% of Americans said yes; just two years later, that fundamental…