Rebuilding Trust

Nobody trusts anyone in power anymore. The W administration has facilitated a breakdown in confidence in the government – he shrunk it, and what government was left took us into Iraq by deceiving us, neglected to do much after a devastating hurricane in New Orleans. W, Tom Delay, Carl Rove and Dick Cheney partnered with the K Street project to help lobbyists and Grover Norquist get even more power. We watched Enron and Bernie Madoff defraud us. This was followed by a housing bubble and financial firms collapsing due to their own greed and fraudulent deceptive practices. Partisan fighting in congress lowered the US credit rating. Golden parachutes make losing your CEO job a relief. The rich and powerful are evidently corrupt and do only what they need to maintain their money and privileges. Government: bad. Corporations: bad. Even Mother Nature has broken our trust; the weather is so bizarre and extreme, who knows what’s going on with that?

The Tea Party arose from these sorts of ashes. They wanted to throw all the government bums out and take all power and money from the government they could. This was their route to reclaiming some power for the regular person. The 99% Occupy Movement was about restoring power to the regular guy. One group leaned to the “government is the problem” side. The other leaned to the side that corporate power is the problem. And so, those who wanted to protect their own took sides and bolstered their own case. And a further polarized culture resulted. Families and friends now have a hard time even bringing up politics and values. We seem stuck in a rut of the Elites versus everyone else, and everyone else won’t trust anyone else. The guy in the elevator with you, the lady in front of you at the checkout line, the parents who carpool with your kids; they all might be on the Other Side.

This vacuum of trust is what has ruined Middle America, and keeps the Elite in power. As long as normal people lurch to partisanship and protect their own, the wealthy can protect their own. And they have many times more to protect. As we think we are doing what is best for ourselves, we are probably not. Corporations that consistently deliver what you want, and maintain an image of service and values can build trust too. Many companies make ads that have no purpose other than to encourage you to have confidence in them. Many of these ads have the purpose of overshadowing controversy; banks, natural gas/fracking, coal come to mind. Some government services have many people’s trust: Medicare, Social Security perhaps. And some other people are mortally afraid these programs can’t last. Trust is built upon little instances of success and cooperation. Friends can build trust.

I say, keep trust for the people you know. I think Americans can build that up after what has happened to us. But on the larger scale, our mantra should be this: Trust what you can influence. Some say that the way to influence is to shrink the powerful (big government, big corporations). Others say we need transparency (in laws, government practice, and in corporate behavior too). Well, I think cleaning up the government is a fine thing. It needs cleaning all the time (so does my house). Transparency is critical too.

I think there are two sets of economic circulation: the elite and the rest of us. Most of us will never be stock market millionaires, or have a need to stash cash in Swiss banks. You do have some control over where your money goes; to giant oligopolies, or to more local businesses. Can you starve the giant corporate beast? And government too. I am not for starving that “beast.” I am for cleaning it up though. I am for an involved, voting electorate. I am for transparency for both government and corporations. And that goes for political campaigns too, for sure. Journalism has a role, to be inquisitive and trustworthy. When the media simply push one, or even two opposing sets of values, it does nobody much good. The last decade made some deep wounds in our relationship with institutions. It will take time to heal them.

Don’t passively encourage the elites, and make their activities visible. But if we are passive, those guys will just take more from us.

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About Jim

I've been leading outdoor environmental education in the YMCA since the 1970s. I love teaching nature, history, current events, being a dad, fixing stuff, groups, and general thinking.
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One Response to Rebuilding Trust

  1. JP says:

    Well said, Jim. Great work at describing the problem of trust, or really distrust, that has become so exaggerated in the past decade. I also think we have to remember that the proximate cause of much of that distrust is the money in politics. When there are hundreds of millions of dollars being spent to convince people that lies are the truth, trust becomes problematic. And the monied powers like it the way it; with distrust and fractured sides. It makes it far easier for them to keep their power. You say the two economies are the elites and the rest of us. I think we need to be more specific. It’s not even the one percent. It’s that 400 people in the US have as much money as the poorest half of the country. And I heard today that the Walton family of Walmart fame has wealth equal to the total wealth of the poorest 40 million Americans. With that kind of inequality and money at the top, distrust is inevitable. I think it’ll be a long slog to get trust back, and we have to try.

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