Trust is defined as "assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something; one in which confidence is placed." Unfortunately, it appears to me as though the root cause of conservative opposition to virtually any progressive policy proposal is distrust. It is reflected not only on the individuals involved but also in the systems and institutions that are ostensibly designed to advance and protect society.
In my lifetime, one which has now spanned five and a half decades, there has been a discernible shift in conservative and liberal applications of the term trust. Indeed, liberal distrust of governmental institutions in the 1960s and 1970s has given way to conservative distrust in the '80s, '90s, and nearly a decade into the new millennium.
But what is so disconcerting is the fact that so much attention is given to harboring distrust in our governmental institutions and so little attention is paid to restoring the social contract that is the basis for the orderly functioning of society. Indeed, political points for casting doubts on the wisdom and ability of certain political ideologies and positions and the politicians who ascribe to them is most likely as old as the Republic itself. However, as our living, breathing democratic experiment has evolved and matured over the past two plus centuries the importance of fostering trust in our governmental apparatus should have grown and matured as well. It hasn't. In fact, today I would argue trust in our government's ability to rectify market inefficiencies or societal inequities is being sorely tested.
Mistrust and distrust are borne out of frustration with the inability of our political system to effectively deal with the pressures inherent in a system beholden to special interests. And this is exacerbated by the growing frustration with the inability to temper historical economic fluctuations in a timely and effective manner.
While a certain degree of distrust has been rightly earned, for instance the ineptitude of our leaders during the Vietnam era, and the revelation of corruption at the highest levels during Watergate, these specialized instances have been overtaken by a generic form of distrust that has found currency with conservative ideology. Over the past two decades, the fires of distrust have been stoked by political expediency. Hence, the Reagan Revolution saw the genesis of "government as the problem not the solution" give rise to a whole generation of conservatives bent on starving the beast of government spending by promoting reactionary fiscal policies that in every sense of the word are un-conservative.
The precipitous explosion of debt fostered by Reaganomics, a fiscal policy that defied gravity by insisting that higher spending and lower revenues would in fact balance the budget, worshiping at the altar of unfettered free-market deregulation, a policy that has bankrupted the financial engines that drive our economy, and the effective abdication of responsibility for protection of basic human rights have rendered us morally and economically suspect not only to the international community but to our people at home. The insidious destruction of trust in our government now finds comfort in the hands and hearts of those dedicated to resist change, even when it is in their best interests.
And it is not limited to distrust of our national institutions. Suspicion of the goals and mission of the United Nations, the International Criminal Court, the World Trade Organization, even the Nobel Commission have gained currency among ultra-right wing nuts that have come to inordinately represent and influence one of our two major political parties. My fear is that it is not only limited to the reactionary right wing, but is becoming more generally accepted in conservative dogma among those who might be inclined to be somewhat more moderate in their social views.
For instance, just this past week I brought to the attention of a friend of mine who normally possesses a more moderate political stance on social issues, despite her Republican party affiliation, an issue I felt to be sure to inspire genuine bipartisan concern: namely, cautions being issued by the scientific and medical community of the expectation that swine flu will spike this Fall as the new school year commences. As a concerned mother of three children I just assumed that these cautions would be welcomed and heeded. Instead, I was confronted with a most unexpected reaction; essentially it was "Oh I don't put much stock in precautions from the World Health Organization". It was as if that is just one more example of a corrupt organization with an obviously corrupt agenda.
What made this reaction so astonishing, to my mind, was not the assumption that this was something worth watching but rather that it was not even worthy of consideration merely because it had to be one of those leftist alarmist organizations bent on disturbing the tranquility of free-market capitalism, sort of like Obama threatening to lead a government take-over of our sacred health care system.
How is it that a certain segment of the population is perfectly content to resist even the notion of questioning whether or not we can make things better? How is it that prevention connotes disruption? How is it that large governmental and non-governmental organizations have nefarious agendas while large for-profit corporations must inherently have not profits but our best interests at heart? How is it that compromise and negotiation, the fundamental building blocks of our democratically representative political system have become so elusive and even scorned? How is it that the politics of secession is rearing its ugly head 144 years after that issue was so painfully laid to rest? Where are the voices of moderation in the conservative movement?
I would argue that true conservatism is becoming a relic of the past, cast aside by a reactionary tsunami that very well might destroy any semblance of a two-party political system. Now, I have little problem with this outcome, as long as it does not stand in the way of immediate correction of the dramatic and traumatic social inequities currently operative in our society, and the most immediate correction must be guaranteeing health care to all as a right not a privilege. The problem, of course, is that there are individuals in both parties seemingly affected by this infectious disease.
It is a disease that is spread as rapidly as the special interest dollars that fuel the political system. And it must be stopped. The common ground to start the discussion has always been that we have a broken health care system that needs fixing. How is it that this can actually be in dispute? Yet, it is not apparent that we have crossed the threshold of even agreeing that 45 million uninsured is unacceptable.
This is the message that needs to be forcefully delivered by the President next week. As self-evident as it may seem, that message has not been forcefully characterized and portrayed to the American public. It needs to be. And for those who cannot agree upon this simple assertion, one backed by facts, statistics, and common sense, I say too bad we shall move forward without you. On the larger issue of restoring trust in the system, nothing succeeds like success, let this be our attempt to prove that "we are from the government, and we are here to help" is no longer a punch line but a lifeline.