Every major institution in a free country draws valid criticism. The courts, Congress, news media, security agencies, top corporations and the federal bureaucracy — none are immune.
President Donald Trump has demeaned all of these. Despite his powerful platform, however, his verbal attacks force little if any change.
Separately, institutional leaders have ignored or dismissed his attacks as self-serving and cynical.
Nearly three months ago, Trump stepped up his grousing about the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which has found merit in several legal challenges to his policies.
"A lawless disgrace," Trump carped.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts pushed back: "What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them. The independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.”
Republicans in power are filling court vacancies that could alter the liberal tenor of the Ninth Circuit. That's no systemic reform, but simply the Senate GOP exercising its turn to confirm judges. These replacements take time. For now, Trump says he expects the Ninth Circuit to oppose his "emergency" declaration to fund a border wall.
Trump also decries the Justice Department as the home base of an alleged conspiracy against him. He pilloried his first attorney general Jeff Sessions for allowing special counsel Robert Mueller to carry out a claimed "witch hunt."
The department and the FBI defended their independence in congressional forums.
After all the noise, Mueller's team is still at it, due soon to finish its probe, having prosecuted eight Americans involved in the president's campaign or administration and 25 Russians. What, if anything, did Trump & Co. succeed in squelching?
For their part, U.S. intelligence agencies continue to contradict Trump statements on Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia. NATO and the UN also carry on much as before — despite Trump's complaints about the "deep state" and "globalism."
Despite Trump's toxic "enemies of the people" refrain, many news organizations easily contest his often false claims.
Two months ago, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis parted ways with Trump over U.S. strategy in Syria and other issues. But the Pentagon brass still seems to control war policy. Last week they effectively nullified Trump's vow to make a new "Space Force" the sixth branch of the military.
Trump's negativity allows heads of the denounced institutions to act the part of a determined "resistance" — even if they are just doing business as usual.
Take for example the world's wealthiest man, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
He owns the respectable, Trump-averse Washington Post and nowadays battles the seamy pro-Trump National Enquirer. Does that matter to the debate over the antitrust implications of Amazon's dominance of online retail?
Resistance seems none too risky for those Trump professes to be taking on. For all his sniping, the administration seems to exert little real pressure on big independent institutions to make difficult or significant reforms.