A Fountain of Distrust
Terry H. Schwadron
Jan. 25, 2023
We’ve arrived at the point where the steady erosion of Trust is becoming a flood, affecting our public policies as well as our personal relationships.
Of course, there is little new in human behavior about the constant clash between personal frailties and the need to do the right thing for others. We long have posited that Trust is aspirational, a quality to be earned rather than an assumed state.
Our public and private world ethics have been littered with incidents showing what happens when that trust fails. Our public assessments and private journals are filled with crimes, corruption, breakups largely based on one individual or another turning away from promised or expectations to put self-interest first.
But as with mass shootings, rising prices and public divisiveness, our news now reflects a daily deluge of what had been distinct exceptions. The steep decline in trust for our institutions, traditions, even laws themselves seem to be running amok, even as reports of accepted bad behavior are rising just as quickly.
The flip side of Trust is Integrity, the personal and public promise to pursue what is needed on behalf of all of us, not just for self. But we’re seeing that integrity is becoming a suddenly scarce quantity.
News as Trust Test
The news this week of a senior FBI counterintelligence agent facing multiple criminal charges for working with and for a Russian oligarch he supposedly had been investigating is beyond disturbing for all the national security ripples the arrest is generating. The apparent need for personal gain over national trust is appalling and dangerous.
But it also is a case on point for the loss of Trust in federal law enforcement in ways that will continue to roil Justice Department efforts in a variety of ways.
The failure of our paltry gun laws even in California to rein in the use of weapons in two multiple killings in the same week is troubling for trust as well as safety. Our “trust” these days is in a legislatures and Supreme Court that will continue to bat down any efforts to keep us safe even as they target school teachers and librarians over books they find objectionable.
Of course, it is a Republican majority in the House that sees no reason to stop or question Rep. George Santos for presenting a totally fabricated personality to the voters — and more importantly — a made-up, sworn set of financial documents as campaign finance documents. Based on false signatures, he would not be allowed to work in any job I ever applied to hold.
What are we to make about trust when looking at these cases in which classified documents are turning up in places where they have no business being — and now involving former Vice President Mike Pence as well ? indeed, while the cases for Donald Trump and Joe Biden differ greatly over the responsiveness of each to the existence of documents, both reflect a lack of public trust for the handling of the nation’s secrets, regardless of intent.
News that Ukraine has tossed out its cabinet members to halt national corruption over selling food to its troops while that nation is at war is upsetting for its trust failures as well as its fact.
People are so distrustful of the news media that they go shopping for channels that will tell them only the news or slant that they are predisposed to want to hear.
Our politics and public life have become a fountain of distrust.
It is that problem with personal integrity that people have found so politically odd about Donald Trump, for one: He makes clear that he primarily wants to use public trust as a tool for personal gain, with any public policy gains in a far second place.
We’re seeing the same play out in House Speaker Kevin McCarthy subordinating normal procedural and substantive legislative efforts to a relatively small extreme minority who are now controlling a full branch of the national government. That McCarthy sees power of the position as more important than protecting the nation’s credit, for example, highlights the problem of trust in our legislature and in Republicans to govern.
That the Supreme Court justices whine about last year’s early leak of the abortion decision and then insist on a throttled internal investigation that went easy on the justices themselves is all about the documented loss of trust for the court. The lack of trust in a court now dominated by partisan political interests is a slap to Americans who expect an impartial entity that has respect for its own precedent decisions.
We’re seeing a lack of faith and trust in corporations that routinely now are keeping prices high even as inflation eases, in fossil fuel companies that resist adjustments for climate change, in the constant insistence of raising executive salaries as layoffs are building amid recessionary trends all contribute to a wariness about trust for management.
That billionaires can escape taxes, or simply buy social media companies to promote their personal opinions is confirmation that there is one system for the rich and another for the rest of us.
At the same time, these institutions are telling us that we cannot be trusted to work with our own doctors about our health decisions.
We’re in a downward spiral with truth and trust.