The 2016 Presidential election cycle seemed largely driven by anxiety. Some argue that racial anxiety fueled Trump’s populist supporters. Others argue that economic anxiety, especially in key swing States of the post-industrial Northeast, drew populist voters.

Trump and Sanders both appealed to economic anxiety. The revitalization of manufacturing became a key issue.

In office, Trump curtailed Internationalism through liberal Civil Society institutions, opting for an American First style of nationalism.

Another form of anxiety is taking place in America, though perhaps not to the extent of racism or economic anxiety: the perceived calcification or impotence of Civil Society organizations at home and abroad, in the face of an economic sector introducing totalitarian technologies. The rise of surveillance capitalism paves the way for totalitarian automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence.

The decline in power of Civil Society preceded Trump as economies and Governments grew in size and power.

Civil Society arose in the post-war order as a bulwark against socialist and fascist nationalist extremes. Civil Society creates an important outlet for profit accumulation and acts as an intermediary between economic, Government, and religious institutions.

Institutional Anxiety at the Local Level

Civil Society does not play as an immediate role in one’s life, with the exception of health care, as Government, the economy, or religion. The economy provides an individual with their livelihood, their job, income, the food on the table. Government provides an individual with laws and order.

At best, Civil Society provides an individual with a plan and/or information, an education or a plan for redevelopment. Trade associations occupy an increasingly challenging position in some communities impossibly trying to balance their member interests with their responsibilities as a charity or nonprofit. At the local level, trade associations are often seen as a discretionary resource to improve the economy, despite possessing resources at scale. An example is Community Foundation who seem to have millions of discretionary dollars ready to deploy to society’s benefit. However, a lot of resources are tied up in donor directed funds to serve a niche or quite possibly an outdated public good.

In the post-war era, Civil Society institutions offered numerous benefits to society. Now, however, the Civil Society does not have the ability to create change. In the post-industrial Northeast, the staff of trade associations, Universities, and Community foundations are seen as overpaid in the face of a declining economy. The activity of these organizations, in large part driven by research are seen as ineffectual planners. Why should the community invest in R&D to create jobs in a decade, when the community needs jobs now? Increased competition from abroad fuels this sort of anxiety.

If society’s major post-war accomplishment is the creation of the liberal order, led by American military power and international Civil Society, then Americans rightly feel a sense of anxiety abroad and at the local. Their institutions cannot compete in a changing economy, both as a mechanism to lead a liberal international order and as a tool for revitalization in their own communities.

Civil Society is relegated to research in an Ivory Tower.

How does Civil Society Reclaim Power?

Civil Society maintains certain flexibilities that can act to manage the externalities associated with rapid technology innovation. For example, Civil Society is not beholden to shareholder value. Civil Society can publish financials and act in complete transparency. Civil Society should play a more important role in the economy by owning shares of firms.

Second, not all Civil Society organizations are created equal. Some Civil Society organizations should be taxed on certain assets. A tax on assets could change the relationship between Government and Civil Society.

Civil Society is often subservient to Government because they receive numerous public grants distributed on a project basis. Local Governments should reevaluate the scope of their missions and utilize Civil Society organizations to deliver services currently offered by municipal authorities.

Curtailing Government to Civil Society grants, while imposing a tax on some nonprofits, creates a more efficient mechanism for the exchange of resources while eliminating Government’s power over Civil Society.

Lastly, Civil Society should reclaim power from donors. A lot of Civil Society resources are tied up in donor-advised or donor-directed funds. Donor-advised funds should roll back restrictions so that funding can maintain relevancy in a rapidly changing society. Resources currently tied up in donor-advised funds should be made available so that Civil Society can go beyond planning to implement change within their community.