All of the things we once held sacred are being chipped away at and destroyed. Sometimes purposefully and sometimes just out of spite or for fun.
The Republican Senator from Nebraska, Ben Sasse, told Face the Nation recently that "The U.S. is in the midst of a civilization-warping crisis of public trust…And we need to talk honestly about our institutions that need to be restored and need to have the ability for people in five and eight and ten years to trust these institutions."
These institutions he is referring to – that were once thought of as non-partisan and trusted equally by men and women, Democrats and Republicans, young and old – are becoming more politicized and mistrusted by the day. The FBI, the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Electoral College, the mainstream news media, Congressional Budget Office, the Federal Reserve, the intelligence community, the Judicial branch, the office of the President, the White House Press Corps, the Department of Defense, the US Constitution.
These Older Gods, once venerated, are now fading in influence, in confidence and in the public trust. We no longer take a single word any of these organizations say at face value; we're questioning their motives and communiqués before they're even finished speaking. Fingers pointing from every direction.
Our faith in the conventions of American government and these institutions isn't just fading away. As in the Gaiman story, it is being transferred. We still have faith, that part of human nature doesn't go away.
"People believe, thought Shadow. It's what people do. They believe, and then they do not take responsibility for their beliefs; they conjure things, and do not trust the conjuration. People populate the darkness; with ghosts, with gods, with electrons, with tales. People imagine, and people believe; and it is that rock solid belief, that makes things happen."
Our new beliefs are making one thing happen, relentlessly – we've selected a new Pantheon. We have more faith in their ability, their capacity to learn and improve, their adaptability, than we have in the President or in Congress or in the courts.
Here are a handful of the very large stocks making new 52-week (and, in many cases, all-time) highs right now: Amazon, Apple, Google, Marriott, McDonald's, Netflix, Salesforce and Visa.
These are not brand new companies, and in many cases they are not selling a brand new product. Rather, they are institutions that have earned the trust and devotion of millions of customers, shareholders, employees and managers. We believe in their products and services, we have faith in their durability, their competitive advantages, their vision of what the future looks like and how they'll fit into it.
En masse, we have decided that, come what may in Washington, these are the entities that will find a way to thrive. They will not merely survive the future, they will be responsible for shaping it.
There's an element of blind faith at work here, and of self-fulfilling prophecy. Because the larger these stocks become, the larger their weight in the index funds that investors have taken to deifying. Vanguard is a Mecca for money, and as it draws in more adherents, by extension the market caps of these companies draw in more invested dollars.
There's a man out in the desert who is preaching.
He is telling fabulous tales and winning new converts to his cult every day. He has his detractors, sure, but with every successive miracle he pulls off, his apotheosis grows in the imagination of the flock. Their faith becomes unshakeable with every new all-time high in his church's share price.
When outsiders dare to ask questions of a more terrestrial nature, about boring things like cash flows and valuation, he dazzles his believers with spectacles – a battery powered car that can drive and park itself, a factory staffed entirely by automatons, a solar powered roof of magical shingles, a rocket that he launches into the heavens and then lands on a platform as though it were merely a helicopter.
And, when he's done performing these feats, well, who the f--- wants to talk about accounting?
In October 2011, Saint Steve died, but he left behind the plans for what would someday be his final masterwork – a circular corporate headquarters, 12.8 million square feet in total, designed to hold 12,000 of Apple's very luckiest corporate employees. It is nearing completion and is the closest thing to Mount Olympus or Asgard ever constructed on planet earth.
It may not be floating in the clouds, but it certainly appears to be levitating above the scrub hills of Cupertino from virtually any angle it can be viewed from. All that's missing is the rainbow bridge to connect this new temple of innovation and shrine to technological dominance to the real world.
The stories about the quarrying of "just the right stone" and the assembly of custom-created glass and metal material are so absurd that they defy even mythological comparison.
Apple is the first publicly traded company in history to be worth in excess of $800 billion. Some context about how large this number is:
1) By itself, Apple's market capitalization exceeds the combined market values of the 102 smallest companies on the S&P 500, according to FactSet.
2) Apple's market cap is more than 220 times larger than Ryder System, Inc., a transportation logistics company that is currently the smallest member in the S&P 500 with a market cap of $3.6 billion.
3) Apple's market cap is more the 2015 gross domestic products of 183 out of the 199 countries tracked by the World Bank. It's approximately the same size as the combined GDPs of Iran and Austria.
Don't tell me we stopped believing.
Apple has sold over a billion iPhones and the iOS user base is now rivaling all of the world's major religions, combined. Poor comparison, you say? We check our iPhones 2600 times a day. If that's not ritualistic devotion, I don't know what is.
The comical thing about the whole "Trump Rally" conceit is that while people have the effect right, they have the cause precisely backwards. Stocks are rallying because of how little faith we have in the government. The Mega Blue Chip Corporation is the new Sovereign. This applies in Europe and Japan just as neatly as it applies here at home – go ahead and look at their indices, this belief transference I describe is going global. Shareholders around the world are waking up to the idea that, despite the many and prominent failings of their respective governments, the universal "profit motive" has not let them down.