'Tis the season to be polling, and judging from just about every poll out there, there are a lot of folks who may be getting coal in their stockings from the American public -- the President, the Congress, government employees, the media, athletes, corporate captains, billionaires, even multi-vitamin manufacturers. The list just grinds on down from the very top of the "I-don't-trust-you" tree and only stops when it comes to the grass roots. That would be the rest of us.
It would seem, if one believes even a tenth of the trust polls, that we have become a rather disillusioned nation -- wary of just about anyone who stands in the public spotlight, or holds an office or position of elected or presumed responsibility. It actually goes beyond that; even within our own myriad breeds -- politicians, newsroom denizens, sports organizations, spy agencies -- there are internecine gladiatorial spectacles pitting left against not-quite-left-enough, right against not-quite-right-enough, black Santa against white Santa, rich against richer, the armed against the put-that-gun-down-you're-going-to-hurt-someone-and-it-might-be-me. What a mess.
I'd like to say that after watching, and sometimes even playing a part in, the American experience for the past 60+ years, our national mores, morals, and the "socioinfopolitical" structures today are just about the same as they always have been. I'd like to think that the only difference between the last century and this one is that we see so much of everything all the time now -- thanks to social media and our compulsions to share our perfect omelets, our perfect babies, our perfect new dance moves, our perfect cats as Mozart. I'd like to say and think those things, but it's simply not true. The "hyperego-lubricated" social tectonics of the 21st century American way of life are reshaping the landscape as the older generation knew it; and as a member of that generation, I'm not just engaging in wistful longings for simpler days.
I cannot recall a time of meaner politics, for example. Of course there have been eras when politicians played rougher -- the elections of the early 19th century were brutal and bloody and the Communist witch hunts of the McCarthy era were downright shameful -- but there was never a time when politicians of both parties gave so much fealty to their financial overlords that they were not only willing, but almost happy, to tear asunder the very fabric of our Constitution. Are you kidding? Of course we don't trust them.
Trust the President? I really want to -- just like I really wanted to trust his predecessors and found each one lacking when it came right down to doing the right thing. Mr. Obama is neither the best nor the worst chief executive, but I'd be happier if he were more inclined to fire his cabinet and agency leaders when they screwed up. Accountability is big in my book; it was expected of me when I was a federal employee, when I was a reporter, and in my role as a father and husband, neighbor and citizen. When I see top government officials being allowed to hold on to their offices when their performance -- had they been any one of their underlings -- would otherwise be subject to dismissal, I turn away in disgust and distrust. One need only to look to the latest employee satisfaction figures from the Office of Personnel Management as reported by The Huffington Post, and wonder why executive heads aren't rolling on a regular basis.
I also have to question the White House policy of not affording more access to the working photojournalists who cover Mr. Obama. The president's official photographer does a great job -- he's a fine shooter -- but when the White House press office doles out only their images of presidential moments, the public is right to question the thought process behind such highly filtered images. Again, it's a matter of trust and openness. There is some movement toward resolving this issue , but it never should have been a problem to begin with.
As for the media, I once was of the body, yet I have so many misgivings about the operations of the media's mind. Is it at all sane and capable of rational, reliable action? On the one hand, I believe we are always better off knowing what is going on around us, and I praise (with faint damning) the ascendency of instant situational awareness that only today's digital technology could support. Unfortunately, those who select the images and words to describe our dynamic society are sadly lacking the filters of sound news judgment.
Mundane events that mean little to the average American are elevated to the "Breaking News" or "Special" category on a too-regular basis. Washington, D.C. is not the center of the world. Pundit opinions, whether gravely pontificated or shamelessly bellicose, mean little to the folks in Wilmington, OH, or Albuquerque, or Spokane. Nelson Mandela's death -- or the death of any global icon from any walk of life -- simply does not merit the overwrought airplay they receive. They lived, they contributed, they died. Mourn and move on. Was it necessary for the news media to pillory a South Carolina sheriff for deciding not to lower a county flag to half-staff for Mandela? Absolutely not. And yet it became a story. Was there nothing better to report on that day? It is little wonder that America outside the Beltway -- far beyond Hollywood's red carpets and light years away from Wall Street -- looks askance at today's media frenzies. Where is the real news that means something to the rest of us?
I polled myself today, asking only one question: who do I trust? It's possible these poll results will be duplicated in millions of households. According to the poll, I trust my family, my friends, my neighbors, my police and fire departments, the men and women of our armed forces, veterans, children under ten, teachers, poets, artists, writers, country singers, and the volunteers and underpaid staff who work to help the needy and the voiceless. Oh, and I trust dogs.