It’s Just A Matter of Trust

Following the Supreme Court’s rejection of Texas’ attempt to sue a few of its sister states for not running elections in a way that might have produced the result it preferred, two things happened. One was that some, like me for example, noted that the Court was not the rigged, partisan tool of Darth Cheeto that Linda Greenhouse had written about for four brutally long years.

The other was the trivializing of the Court’s holding to law in the face of Trumpian pressure. Don’t praise the Court, was the cry of the passionate left, for doing the absolute least it could do, by upholding the law and refusing to bend to the whims of the crazy people. They’re still awful partisan hacks, even if they didn’t succumb this time.

For years, we’ve been informed that Roe v. Wade was doomed. That Obergefell was toast. Just look at Shelby County v. Holder, which proves that Chief Justice John Roberts is a racist devil, they screamed. The passionate are owed rulings with which they agree, and refuse to accept that any outcome with which they disagree could be rendered in good faith. The former is too obvious for appreciation. The latter too horrible for acceptance.

And now, with 59, or is it 60, failed suits brought to undo the election of Joe Biden, with goofy alternate slates of electors pretending to vote for the “real” winner, with somewhat less than half a nation doubting the outcome and some smaller percentage of fellow citizens ready to act upon their beliefs in order to preserve their delusional grasp of the Constitution, these same highly educated, deeply passionate, zealots wonder why these armed MAGA-hatted loonies refuse to accept that the courts of the states and the United States, who have ruled, and ruled again, haven’t finally and conclusively resolved these disputes?

The New York Times’ most despised columnist, Brett Stephens, says it’s a matter of trust.

But the catastrophe of Trump’s presidency doesn’t mainly lie in the visible damage it has caused. It’s in the invisible damage. Trump was a corrosive. What he mainly corroded was social trust — the most important element in any successful society.

The value of social trust was raised by Reagan’s secretary of state, George Schultz. who turned 100 years of age and wrote about what he learned in his century.

His central lesson after a life that spanned combat service in World War II, labor disputes in steel plants, the dismantling of segregation and making peace with the Soviets: “Trust is the coin of the realm.”

“When trust was in the room, whatever room that was — the family room, the schoolroom, the locker room, the office room, the government room or the military room — good things happened,” Shultz wrote. “When trust was not in the room, good things did not happen. Everything else is details.”

Stephens points out that Trump alone isn’t responsible for the “declining” trust in our institutions, and may well be the culmination of it.  It’s long been my belief that Trump was our warning and punishment for the failures of governance preceding him. Congressional paralysis and executive overreach produce corrosive cynicism and blind outrage rather than healthy skepticism and good faith disagreement. America gave up on competence, knowledge and civility. In its place, we got Trump.

But it’s hard to think of any person in my lifetime who so perfectly epitomizes the politics of distrust, or one who so aggressively promotes it. Trump has taught his opponents not to believe a word he says, his followers not to believe a word anyone else says, and much of the rest of the country to believe nobody and nothing at all.

He has detonated a bomb under the epistemological foundations of a civilization that is increasingly unable to distinguish between facts and falsehoods, evidence and fantasy. He has instructed tens of millions of people to accept the commandment, That which you can get away with, is true.

We are, at this moment in time, in a post-factual society. That’s not to say there was some earlier, bucolic time when there were no factions in our society that indulged in their fantasies, but that there was a time when most of our society accepted a shared reality, when we understood and recognized that facts were facts, even when they didn’t cut our way. Walter Cronkite didn’t make stuff up to push an agenda, and we all watched and understood that what we were told was reliable. What we did with it from there was another matter, but at least we were working with the same reality. At least most of us were. At least most of us wanted to.

The claims of Trump’s “rigged” elections are, to any rational and somewhat knowledgeable person, examples of how deeply people believe, and how little they care, about facts. The same is true of those who contend that everything in our society is racist, sexist, awful and existential. No doubt the comments that will follow this post will argue why one side’s claims are true, while the other’s are not. Or that these aren’t comparable, for even if their tribe’s fantasies are false, they’re not as evil as the other tribes, rendering any comparison false.

What is missed in this hissing war is that we may disagree about what’s right and wrong, true and false, good and evil, but our cynicism has made it impossible to rely on any trusted institution to resolve our differences. We, like Trump, can’t accept losing and will say and do anything to prevail. We feel no cognitive dissonance about it because we trust no one and nothing to tell us we’re wrong, or at least that we lose. We reject the idea that we should accept the loss.

Is trust the only missing factor that’s brought society to this nadir? I don’t know. But attacking the trustworthiness of the institutions that have sustained us this far leaves us without anything to trust, and the attacks have been relentless and have come from both sides. You can’t trust our system only when you get the outcome you prefer, but undermine trust when you don’t. This produces two things. The first is a president like Donald Trump, our warning and our punishment for being so cynical. After that, the only option is blood in the streets, as there is no institution left to resolve our disagreements in which we trust. Is that really where we want to end up?

24 thoughts on “It’s Just A Matter of Trust

  1. KP

    Well, the fall-back is always a damm good war to get people behind the Country, the Govt and the National Anthem!

    Lets hear it for going to war on China! on Iran.. on North Korea! So long as everyone feels that surge of patriotism again and it makes America great!

    If not, well, you might find cynicism of Govt and its institutions is actually a fine way to live! Its not really Left versus Right at all, its those in power against those who pay for them!

    Anyway, I don’t think your black underclass took that much from Walter Cronkite, this current society is an expression of the people who felt excluded from his reality.

  2. Mark Schirmer

    Some of this is the fault of our profession. Most americans hear lawyers saying they lost on technicalities – and because we don’t explain the realities of the system, there is no pause before they reach the conclusion. Failure to educate is like picking a bad jury and then not sooon feeding it whatbit needs to know. For example, a decision to deny a preliminary injunction often is a decision on the merits as most people would understand it – a failure to put up evidence sufficient to justify the relief. Where have we been explaining that? A decision resting on lack of standing is the same type of thing. True, some will believe anyway, but a little more knowledge – a little more education – might innoculate some against the nonsense.

    1. SHG Post author

      I think you underestimate the culpability of lawyers in twisting people’s heads about law. We have the capacity, and duty, to educate the public on law, and yet we are lazy, indulgent and (too often) full of shit in order to push our personal agendas. Some do better than others, but too many lawyers do too much to make people stupider about law. It makes me sad.

      1. Mark Schirmer

        SHG. I agree. And I, with my minor footprint, am trying to do better. Yesterday I tweeted a thread explaining, in layman’s terms, some concepts. So maybe 1000 people will be better educated. More efforts are coming.

  3. Guitardave

    Warning? Punishment? HA!
    He (and his opponents) are nothing more than the turd that’s produced when a society has been fed shit sandwiches for fucking decades. You’re giving him way, WAY too much credit in this supposed destruction of trust.
    Our so-called ‘fourth estate’ was compromised long before Donny boy was sucking his thumb. Walter Con-ya-tonite?….yeah, right. Ever since they tried to sell me on some skinny ass punk operative, with a gun you couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with killing a certain president, I’ve been out. ‘Belief and ‘trust’ died along time ago and it sure as fuck wasn’t the Orange man’s fault. He’s nothing more than a by-product.

    I know it’s hard to see from the comfortable confines of your own private Idaho, but it’s time to wake up from your ‘dream within a dream’ and realize that no matter how much you insulate yourself from it, you live in Hell, run by greed filled psychopathic liars.

    Justify and hold close your delusions.
    After all, why live in confusion?
    Believe what they tell you,
    And the lies that they sell you,
    So you sleep without nightmare intrusions.

    …and have a wonderful day! GD.

    1. SHG Post author

      You sound kinda down today, Dave. Come on over. I’ll put you up in the Mencken Guest Wing at Casa de SJ, feed you well and turn that frown upside down.

      1. Guitardave

        The Mencken Wing?…(in my best Marv Albert voice) YES!
        A comfy chair, a smoke, a sip or two of some good peat-bog juice…maybe with some Nietzsche I haven’t read from the wing’s library…I think you’re on to something here.

        So, i did my normal thing… , write comment/go do something for 10 min./ go back and read / then decide if its something for the ‘forever’ place. And ya know, i sat there…with a silly grin on my face, thinking…that guy sounds a bit pissy today.
        I said to myself, it’s a beautiful morning, clear and bright, the traffic wasn’t bad on my new daily sunrise trip on the scenic back roads of eastern Lanc. County…my new-to-me, ’98 GMC 4by was running good…I’m mostly healthy and want for no necessity, so WTF?

        My grin turned into a hearty and somewhat maniacal laugh as i poked the ‘enter’ key.

        You know, you don’t have to be crazy to really love life and really hate liars…but it helps. 🙂
        Love ya Brother, GD.

        PS: Thanks for the offer…maybe someday. Gotta go get the JD ready to play in the snow.

  4. Andrew

    I really don’t think all sides are pitted against each other as all media outlets want (i.e. dictate) us to believe. The trust quote is a good one, and a very necessary reminder for the times we are living in today.

  5. Charles

    In 2016, the losers tweeted #NotMyPresident and cried for impeachment, before Trump even took office or could have done anything impeachable. This time around, the losers are filing lawsuits.

    Can we just give participation trophies in 2024?

    1. Curtis

      Exactly. Hillary Clinton railed about Trump being illegitimate and how the Russians were “grooming” Tulsi Gabbard to subvert the 2020 election. Both losers attempted to undermine faith in the election instead of truly admitting defeat.

      1. SHG Post author

        Is there anything new your comment contributed to Charles’ comment, or did you just want to seize on the opportunity to spank Hillary because she’s the other tribe and you’re part the problem?

        1. Curtis

          Charles said “the losers” and I said “Hillary Clinton.” I think distinguishing between the leaders and their followers is a significant different.

          I am sure that neither Clinton nor Trump are part of my libertarianish tribe. When I disagree with them, Democrats always think I am a Republican and Republicans always think I am a Republican.

          1. SHG Post author

            Charles exercised discretion for the reasons reflected in the post. You did not. Not only was it not “significant,” and not only do I not give a damn what your politics are, but it was exactly what the post pointed to as the problem, the worthless compulsion to point fingers and blame someone. And yet, that’s what you did.

  6. Jay

    Very well said. One of your best Greenfield.

    Now, if only you could come up with a solution. One of your commenters noted, the best unifier historically for the American people has been a common enemy.

    I’d like to think we can get beyond the 1 minute hate of 1984 to keep ourselves together. When I consider life before Trump, Obama, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Regan, well- I kind of wonder whether the shared enemy mattered so much as politicians being both committed and able to solving solutions rather than winning political points. So where’d the downfall come in- 24 hour news? The internet? Bad polling? Money in politics?

    Were we merely refusing to deal with the deep issues of our country like BLM claims? Is it that people are so deeply racist or full of hate that trying to be kind to each other tears us apart? It’s hard to claim that some people just want to be upset- after all, each side is upset by different things. As since the dawn of country- we continue to be perpetually apocalyptic in our expectations for the future. But we’re never on the same page.

    Here’s what I think– and I don’t like it but I like it better than war. I think the easy bandaid solution is to make as many people less stressed out, give them better paying jobs, cleaner cities, etc. They may fight while you give it to them, but once people have these things, they settle into them pretty quickly. The immediate issue is that 70 million Americans voted for Trump. That number isn’t all Trumpers and post-factual folks, but people who liked the economy under Trump and didn’t care to let COVID destroy everything. If Biden is lucky- he’ll get the vaccine out quickly, reopen the economy, and get to work keeping the price of bread low and raising wages. People laugh at the concept of a right to a job- but I have to say I think that making sure everyone is working would be a big step away from the precipice we are on.

    It’s not a well-thought out blog post, but that’s my rough idea for a peaceful, better future. Bring back a comfortable middle class.

    1. SHG Post author

      Glad you liked it, though I don’t think you understood it. Actually, it scares me that you agree with me, which is almost always a sign that my reasoning is flawed. As Skink says, dogs and cats peacefully cohabitating.

  7. Jesse

    This notion of “public trust” is rather silly in light of views of the founders of this country, who by and large viewed government as something that should never, ever be trusted, but rather tightly restrained. Public trust didn’t die with Trump, it was never intended to be there in the first place.

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