Over the course of my life it’s become clear to me that trust is the foundation of all relationships. Trust shows up in different levels based on need and circumstances. When I go on Amazon and click on the battery powered fly swatter with the anti-fly guidance system that I’ve always wanted, I have trust that I will get it. I trust it will be as deadly accurate as advertised. If it’s not as advertised, I’m disappointed but not emotionally wounded.
On the other end of the trust spectrum is my wife. We have been together for 22 years and she likely knows more about me than I see in myself. I trust her with it all. Money, thoughts, innermost fears, and my heart. My love for her is both enormously powerful and vulnerable.
With all my talk of love and vulnerability, you may be shocked, OK maybe not, to learn that as a part of our day to day lives…we don’t always agree. What’s for dinner? Yes, I was listening to you! No, I don’t still think I’m right. No, Jennifer Lopez is not a great actress. It’s too early to start talking about the Red Sox in the World Series. Lot’s of little things that at the time seem more significant due to the familiarity of many years together. Of course, life often presents bigger problems. Sometimes much bigger problems. In my experience when the more significant things come along, we have moments of debate or disagreement, and then we rally as a unified front. We can do that, as I see it, only because under it all is the foundation of love built on trust.
She, this woman I love more than anyone, is also the person I have the most disagreements with, bar none. I think that’s likely true in most marriages.
It’s that kind of deep, trusting love that lets us disagree, get mad, and say, that was stupid, you’re wrong, are you out of your mind, and still put our heads down on the pillow together that night. It’s the kind of trusting love that I believe would let us have the worst fight in the history of us and then in the blink of an eye defend each other ceaselessly should a threat present itself.
In some ways, it’s a similar sort of thing that brothers and sisters have with each other. My life experience with my sisters was that as kids we fought like cats and dogs. Not all the time but from time to time. We would curse and scream at each other. Nobody else was allowed to do that. If someone came along and said what I said the day before to my Sister, I would have none of it. I would defend them to the end.
It’s that sort of love that exists based on trust. The love for a brother, sister, husband, and wife that’s built on trust. It’s also true for friends and maybe our favorite waiter or perhaps the person you know at the grocery or the gym. All to different degrees but nonetheless a minimal essential level or a deep level of trust exists in all these relationships. Relationships are built on trust.
My belief is this kind of implicit trust has existed for us all as Americans.
Think about the examples both small and profound.
Much of America has spent countless hours as fans of professional and college sports. This is a massive mutual experience we share that includes picking sides. I have my team and wear my colors, and you and your loser team have yours. Go RedSox! During these games, we have screamed you suck, chanted down and booed out the other side. I’ve been to RedSox Yankee games and seen people pour beer on fans of the other team just because they were on the other side.
Keep that in mind and image a new summer blockbuster movie where let’s say terrorists attacked a ballpark somewhere in America. Sure there would be a certain amount of screaming and people running for their lives. However, there would also be fans from each side that would team up to take out the bad guys.
We see this in real life America after natural disasters and in churches and clubs when people get sick. We rally and we come together.
We saw it after 911 when America pulled together, grieved together, and started healing together.
Americans from all points of view have always rallied together. This has been true in times of war and times of need.
This is true because as Americans we have mutual needs and beliefs that have allowed us to grow assumed trusts. They show up as a social compact. I will treat you with a certain level of respect and civility because I want the same for me. I won’t rob your house or dump trash in your yard because I expect the same. The foundations of our justice system and the rule of law are based on these things.
If trust becomes damaged, resentment, distrust, and withdrawal from one another intrude.
If trust becomes broken things fall apart and the relationships and social compacts begin to dissolve.
With all this discussion of trust in mind, it seems to me that a great deal of what we are experiencing as a Nation or come to think of it, a great deal of what we are suffering from as a global community is an impact of weakening trust.
An example of what I mean is a concept we have all become familiar with, Tribalism.
You have probably heard tribalism discussed more and more. This is especially true when it comes to things political. Politics are increasingly and intentionally injecting themselves into our culture. You may say, well yes, politics have always been a big part of our culture, and they should be. I don’t argue with that at all. American politics require our participation.
The problem comes from the creation of what I call the hyper-other. In similar ways, this has been talked about regarding wedge issues partisans have used to contrast and illustrate why I am and you are not in alignment. Nothing new there.
The creation of the hyper-other is villainizing in the minds of one set of people the intentions and end goals of another set of people. It’s the villainizing of a group of people that have a somewhat different set of core beliefs. This goes on while at the same time most of the hyper-others who have been villainized actually agree of much more than they disagree on.
It’s an anti-trust-manipulation.
Here are some examples that have been part of this anti-trust-manipulation.
You can no longer go to NFL game without the National Anthem being “a thing.” Where do you get your news? Your news is fake mine is real. If you live in a big city, you might not be “real American.” If you live in the heartland, you’re a “real American.” Do you pray? Do you not pray? Are you straight? Are you gay? Bi? Trans? Where do you come down on bathrooms? How do you view immigration? Do you own a gun? Oh…you own a gun. Should teachers be armed? Do you or do you not support all controversial and even noncontroversial speakers, entertainers, and others coming to colleges and universities? Are all Muslims the enemy of America? Is Christianity being discriminated against in America? Is there a war on Christmas? Where do you stand on voting rights? Where do you stand on voter suppression tactics…both foreign and domestic? What are your thoughts on political parties? The Republican Party is the Patriotic Party. The Democrat Party (not Democratic) are un-American. Can we debate issues based mainly on an agreed upon facts? Why do the poor, working poor, and lower-middle-class voters consistently election after election vote for more tax breaks for the super-rich while never seeing their wages go up? You just want to raise my taxes to help those welfare queens! You’re a snowflake! You’re fascist! You’re a liberal! You’re a conservative! Why do you hate America! Blah, Blah, Blah!
Full disclosure, for those of you who need it, some of this describes me.
We no longer discuss, debate, and move forward on these things in effective, pragmatic ways because we don’t trust our fellow Americans. At least not at the levels Americans have in the past.
Don’t agree with me? Go work on household budget issues that have a bearing on your life with a financial planner you don’t trust. Meet with a doctor you have no faith in (lack of trust) and then follow their advice. I’m sure you can think of similar examples in your own life.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not repackaging June and Ward Cleaver and selling you a once perfect America that actually never existed.
America and American democracy has been mostly a big messy family that in the end has gotten things right more often than not. Winston Churchill once said, “Americans will always do the right thing — after exhausting all the alternatives.” I like to think that’s true because we would discuss, debate, make a bit of a mess, and then get it done. Not perfect but frequently very good in the end.
These days Congress does little. Primarily because they and party leadership don’t have any appreciable amount of trust for each other. Infrequently, Congress is comprised of willing mutual participants who in the end each have the underpinnings of Americas best interest in mind.
The operating paradigm is turned on its head. Party or country? Which do you think is on top most of the time?
Our President is the current face of a slow but accelerating democracy death march by repeatedly insulting, disrespecting, prevaricating, and lying. Beyond that, he bends, distorts, and manipulates the truth in Gatling gun fashion. Our Commander in Chief reinforces conspiracy theories mostly discussed on the fringes. He gives energy and credibility to purveyors of anger, hatred, and misinformation. He sows doubt when it comes to judges, the justice system, law enforcement, and our intelligence services. He does this while doing the rhetorical two-step around whether or not long-standing enemies of America have or have not attacked the foundations or our democracy. Our elections.
In short, the President is not a trust builder. He is a destroyer of trust.
By now it has to be clear to you I am not a fan of our current President.
Depending on your point of view this may be difficult for you to believe. For me, this is not about attacking our President. Although admittedly I did just that. This is about an infection that has been plaguing America since before I was born. It’s shown up in a multitude of ways with even more faces out in front of it.
A few examples, past and present, of the things that lead us to this point, are.
· John Birch Society
· A formerly mainstream KKK
· Father John Coughlin, conspiracy theory hate-mongering radio priest
· The embrace of the Southern Strategy after the 1964 Civil Rights Act
· Multiple One world government conspiracies
· Catholics can’t be President because the Pope will rule America
· The Jews control America
· There is a substantive anti-Christian movement in America
· There is a substantive war against Christmas in America
· The Militia movement
· 911 was an inside job directed by Americans
· Most things Alex Jones of Info Wars says
· Barak Obama is secret Muslim born in Kenya
· Justice Antonin Scalia was murdered
· A large population of Arabs in New Jersey were celebrating when the towers cam came down on 911.
· Liberals are Marxist or Communist who hate God and don’t love America
· Conservatives are all mean bigoted fascists
None of these examples are the cause of Americans losing trust in our foundations, each other, and our leadership. At least not any of them alone.
However, over more than my lifetime, these examples and many others have been used over and over by politicians, special interest groups, and other countries directed back at America as misinformation campaigns.
The effect has been to infect our popular culture with increasingly angry and often falsely over hyped reasons for us to be angry at and mistrust each other.
The effect has been to weaken America’s immune system. The strength of that immune system is trust.
As we continue to go off into our corners and believe the worst about each other the weaker we will become.
That is the intent of our adversaries like Russia.
In the end, the President and the Congress are reflections of us…U.S. Not the other way around.
I do think it’s important to have strong principles but lets base where we go based on those principles on the best available facts. I recommend those facts don’t come from people who tell us that Lizard People walk among us.
Most of us really do agree on much more than we disagree on. Let’s start off with those things with a view toward building trust as we check things off the list and get to the heavier lifts.
America’s trust, her immune system, is damaged. I’m not ready to say it’s irrevocably broken but it’s damaged, no doubt about it.
It’s up to us to be an American family and care for the country over party, in other words, each other over personal anger and mistrust.
The audio version of this can be heard at the City Voice Podcast.