As the old Billy Joel song goes; that is, a fair portion of a civil society is built on trust. Or at least – a large portion of the citizens in that society not only trust each other, but they generally also trust the civil institutions, too. There is an assumption, albeit slightly frayed around some edges that our institutions are generally benign and have the well-being of the larger public at heart. We assume, or did in the past, that laws are passed for our benefit, that rules are instituted for the same reason, that our elected leaders did, or at least mostly made a convincing pretense of representing the interests of their constituents, and not those of lobbyists bearing large favors. We assumed that our print and broadcast outlets were generally telling the truth and living up to their oft-stated mission to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. We assumed also that our various law enforcement bodies – with the occasional horrible local exception – were out there to protect us from crime and the bad guys. We generally trusted our local town and city governments – unless of course, we lived in a sinkhole of civic corruption and incompetence like New Orleans, Washington DC or Chicago, or anyplace where former mayors and city councilmen frequently wind up in prison. We also trust our fellow citizens, in a large part; a trust which appears perfectly astounding to foreign visitors. We trusted our doctors, to do their best for us, within the scope of what is and was medically possible. And there still remain many places in flyover country where hardly anyone locks the back door of their house, and keeps elaborate garden ornaments in the front yard, secure in the believe that everything – inside as well as outside – will remain in their proper place.
It is to my sorrow that this trust – is becoming ever more shredded every day which passes. Oh, there always was that fringe who maintained a lively distrust in civic authorities and institutions, about anything and everything from fluoridated water to godless communists on the school board. Members of all minority groups maintained a lively distrust of mainstream establishments over the years, from country clubs to those who enforced the law, to city hall and mainstream churches, frequently with good reason. But at present all that I might see when I look around is the accelerating pace of mis-trust, and an increasing degree of suspicion. Distrust has gone mainstream in a big way. After the Supreme Court ruled on Kelo, who still feels secure in their ownership of property, given the circumstance that it might be a nice bit of property and potentially more valuable in the hands of a corporate owner, aided by a cash-hungry municipal authority? Who, reading about the confiscation of large sums of cash and property from travelers on the bare suspicion of criminal involvement – and knowing that the income from such confiscations becomes part of the law enforcement body’s budget – cannot put aside the suspicion that such seizures are only a pretext to loot the citizenry? The same also goes for stop-light cameras; traffic safety is not the issue – but a substantial cash-flow to the municipality from fines is the main motivation. And older citizens and those with chronic health complaints might have good reason – pace the example set by the so-called Liverpool Care Pathway – to suspect that under universal public healthcare, the cost of treatment might be more of a concern to the healthcare provider than the care of the individual patient? Knowing of the infamous ‘JournoList’ and supposing the existence of a successor to it, one might look at the stories given wall-to-wall coverage, and those which are shoved below the fold and onto the back pages, one also has reason to suspect the worst of journalists as well.
I could go on with a good few more examples of how trust in what is published and broadcast with regard to the current administration has been severely and perhaps fatally damaged public trust in our newspapers and television news programs. Yep, trust is become a diminishing and precious commodity these days. Of all the damage that has been done to these United States and it’s institutions since 9/11, I wonder if that hasn’t been the most telling blow – and the one from which it will be hardest to recover from. That is, if it will be possible to recover at all.
(Cross-posted at Chicagoboyz.net)