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An Era of Broken Trust

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Anonymous

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Is there hope for America in an era of broken trust?
By Kenneth C. Davis,
August 5, 2011 9:27 a.m. EDT

Editor's note: Kenneth C. Davis is the author of Don't Know Much About History: Anniversary Edition among many other books. He lives in New York City.

(CNN) -- Trust is one of those verities that Americans have always liked to talk about.

"In God We Trust" says our money. ("All Others Pay Cash" reads the ubiquitous sign behind checkout registers.)

Dr. Spock once counseled: "Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do."

And President Reagan taught us to "trust but verify."

But in these times of great recession, bailouts, high unemployment and nonstop partisan infighting, the fundamental sense of trust the nation once possessed seems irreparably damaged. The deep divisions in Washington, evident most recently in the wrangling over the debt ceiling, drove this home. Opinion polls in the wake of the debate confirmed the worst news for the Beltway Crowd: Confidence in Congress has plunged to an all-time low.

We are trapped in what I have called an era of broken trust. Its roots can be traced back more than a decade.

There was the Enron collapse in 2001 and a string of other corporate scandals, including those of Tyco and WorldCom; the dotcom crash; the shameful revelations of pedophile priests weighing down the Catholic Church; the failures of the CIA and FBI in some very high profile cases, such as the Robert Hanssen spying case and culminating in 9/11.

Americans have steadily lost faith in government, its agencies and many of our other basic institutions.

Here are a few other lowlights on the road to this sorry state: ­

•The morass in Afghanistan deepened as we moved further away from the fateful event that took us there

•The deceptions and mistaken assumptions that led to the invasion and occupation of Iraq continued to weigh the nation down in a costly war

•The response to Hurricane Katrina at every level of government was a national disgrace

•The worst upheaval in the global economy since the Great Depression shook trust in bedrock financial corporations and the government agencies that were supposed to regulate them

Perhaps the best summary of what this period in our history has meant was unwittingly delivered by President Bush on "Good Morning America," during the Katrina catastrophe in 2005: "I don¹t think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees."

Of course, Bush was wrong, as ample evidence later proved.

But Americans used to trust that even if the levees broke, somebody would be there to fix them, keep the floodtide back and rescue those flailing in the water. No more. A feeling of deep distrust has been cemented by Washington's recent display of dysfunction.

From the historical perspective, we might ask: Was there ever a "Good Old Days" when the forces of society and government were pulling in the same direction? Or is that merely a nostalgic American myth? Were the "Good Old Days" actually terrible?

The easy answer is that America has, of course, seen worse. Much worse. It is more than fitting that the debate over debt, ­while far from inconsequential, can be viewed against the backdrop of the 150th anniversary of the most divisive moment in American history: 1861 and the onset of the Civil War. More than 600,000 Americans -- 2% of the population at the time -- died in a war that lasted four long, dreadful years.

The death toll and destruction that leveled American cities 150 years ago are bleak reminders of what real division and broken trust once meant -- and of the ultimate cost of failing to make political compromises. Things may be contentious now, but there have been no canings on the floor of Congress, no real threat of secession or rebellion, and no deadly combat between fellow Americans.

Besides the Civil War itself, the country has lived through serious differences and has been far more divided in times past. In the 1840s, Protestant and Catholic Americans killed each other in Philadelphia's "Bible Riots," and there have been other violent sectarian battles over religion and immigration.

Many African-Americans throughout history would scoff at the notion of trusting government. Theirs is largely a story of a deep division that once meant enslavement, later segregation and racial hatred: lynchings, separate water fountains, separate and unequal schools and other institutional discrimination. Native-Americans, long denied even the fundamental right of citizenship, also know a history of being stripped of their lands, their trust crushed with every broken treaty.

During the Vietnam War era, when the counter-culture mantra was "Never trust anyone over 30," the country experienced the agonizing split created by that costly conflict. Campuses were in turmoil, protestors filled American streets, and peace demonstrations turned violent.

So, from the historical perspective, things have been much worse.

Fortunately, we are a long way from the worst divisions our country has experienced over 235 years. This recent posturing over finances has been mean-spirited and nasty. But the National Guard has not been called out. Campus protestors have not been shot. Police dogs are not being set on marchers. Civil rights workers are not being murdered. There is no blood running in the streets after sectarian riots. So far it has been a war of words.

But for many, that is not much comfort.

The question is: Can it get better? Can public trust be restored? Can we end this era of broken trust?

History says yes. But it has never been about some valiant knight riding to the rescue. The real beauty of the American story is that the great strides achieved in this country -- from its birth out of revolution, through emancipation and abolition, suffrage, Native American citizenship and civil rights ­-- have come painfully and haltingly, usually from the bottom up, not the top down.

There is an American spirit that has seen the country through wars, depressions, and even violent divisions. And that is what deserves our trust. History says trust is not about a party or politician, but an idea.

And in the nation's darkest hour, when more than a war of words was at stake, President Lincoln named that American spirit "the better angels of our nature."

"Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people?" Lincoln asked in his first inaugural, as civil war loomed.

"Is there any better or equal hope in the world?"
 

Mike

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Why can't we trust government today?

Here's why:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UErR7i2onW0&feature=player_embedded

Or here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ySM63ES8t4U&feature=related

Or here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EXq1G_GuG8Q&feature=related

Or here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0rLcG8GKM8g&feature=related
 

Steve

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But Americans used to trust that even if the levees broke, somebody would be there to fix them, keep the floodtide back and rescue those flailing in the water.

I don't think this is true... not about our great country..


the fact is.. Americans used to prepare for disasters, and be capable of pulling together and riding out the storms.. even an epic one..

we didn't need a person from DC to fix US,..

the sad part is that the author thinks government can be everywhere and protect everyone.. they can't..

commonsense can be everywhere.. but it sure seems scarce these days..
 
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Anonymous

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Steve said:
But Americans used to trust that even if the levees broke, somebody would be there to fix them, keep the floodtide back and rescue those flailing in the water.

I don't think this is true... not about our great country..


the fact is.. Americans used to prepare for disasters, and be capable of pulling together and riding out the storms.. even an epic one..

we didn't need a person from DC to fix US,..

the sad part is that the author thinks government can be everywhere and protect everyone.. they can't..

commonsense can be everywhere.. but it sure seems scarce these days..

Steve who have you helped lately. I try to find someone in need and help them directly. Such as someone that has their house burn and loses it all. Also someone that needs medical care and cannot afford it. Happens all the time with me. No tax exempt charities involved so I can deduct the help provided from may income taxes. Get real everyone of you and find someone to help. Seems to me that the more I help my income grows and grows so I can help more.
 

Steve

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HurlyJD said:
Steve who have you helped lately.

I had to think about this question.. not cause I didn't have any examples.. but because often when I help a person . I don't think much of it and just consider it part of life..

but I will answer..

well a week ago when it was hitting a hundred, I rebuilt a deck for a lady at church.

I drove another lady about 60 miles each way to a doctors appointment.,.. I'm not sure if it was 4 or 5 times this year.

I've been helping a kid I know with a young family.. by giving him work when his funds are short..

I canceled two vacations this year, one a family reunion, and the other our annual salmon fishing trip.. because my wife's father fell and it was a choice of her getting home to help him or the trips..

oh and one I like to brag about, this winter I started a youth group.. went every Wednesday, Annie cooked a meal, and we had about 12-14 kids every week.. and the kids started asking recently if we are going to do it again.. I'm not good with kids.. they scare the hell out of me.. but some one needs to spend some time with them..

this summer I took a friends autistic child Jet skiing.. he has been out a few times,.. but this year I saw a time when we were connecting and got him out on his own on one of my standup's.. and had another child out on her own for the first time this year as well .

This is one area I feel that gives a child a lifetime memory and a bit of earned confidence no one can take away.. and I thank GOD I can do it..

I could go on for a while and these things may seem small to some .. but from spending a week helping at VBS, to driving someone to a doctor.. I hope it all adds up to amount to something..

I still think working with kids is the most rewarding and the scariest..

HurlyJD said:
Get real everyone of you and find someone to help. Seems to me that the more I help my income grows and grows so I can help more.

I noticed that myself.. things are a bit tight this year.. but we have enough.. sometimes you have to give up a vacation. ...but then when you go next time the vacation might be a little better appreciated.
 

Steve

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No tax exempt charities involved so I can't deduct the help provided from may income taxes.

Like many your reward is in the giving,, and there is no way any one can "deduct" that from you..

I work on the stewardship committee at church.. not really my thing.. but I did learn there are some who tithe and some who give.. and some who take..

my opinion is GOD gave us what we have.. he lets us use it as we want..

I just hope to live well and die broke .. and hope he noticed..
 
A

Anonymous

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Thanks Steve my opinion and respect for you has gone up by a very extreme amount. Need more like you in the world.
 

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