American Distrust Is Good (2023 Oct)

by Barry A. Liebling

A large proportion of Americans are highly suspicious of major American institutions. This includes government at all levels (federal, state, local), big business, the educational establishment (kindergarten through graduate and professional schools), high technology companies, the news and entertainment industries (commonly referred to as “the media”).

And it is not just institutions that are regarded with a cold eye. Individuals are hesitant to regard their fellow Americans as trustworthy. Members of the Democratic party have antipathy for their counterparts who are Republicans, and Republicans reciprocate their disdain.

This is obvious to anyone who is paying attention to recent events. But it is newsworthy that attitudes were not always this unfavorable. According to Gerard Baker, long-associated with The Wall Street Journal, there has been an alarming decline in American trust in the past 50 years, and especially since the beginning of this century.

Mr Baker cites numerous national surveys that document that while Americans were highly likely to trust institutions and one another previously, with each passing year the proportion of citizens who are leery about what they see or hear or read has increased. I am convinced that Mr Baker is generally accurate in his assessment of the country’s mood.

However, in his book “American Breakdown: Why We No Longer Trust Our Leaders and Institutions and How We Can Rebuild Confidence,” he portrays the breakdown of trust as a tragedy and recommends actions intended to reverse the trend.

Pull back and consider – is it good or bad that Americans are becoming less trusting and more suspicious regarding a large number of topics? The short answer is that mistrust is a good sign and a step in the right direction.

While there are multiple factors that are making Americans less trusting, a few stand out as highly significant.

There are more sources of information about world events available than ever before. In the last century the typical way of learning what is going on was to consult the major news organizations and to visit libraries filled with physical books. With the explosion of the internet there is a myriad of sites where you can learn about things and be exposed to a wide range of opinions. Of course, a lot of internet content is unreliable, misleading, false, and worthless. But that is a good thing because it alerts thinking people to be skeptical and sort through the material critically.

The internet is a blessing to those who want to judge for themselves, but it is a nightmare to those who yearn to control what you see, what you believe, and how you act. Even though the largest high technology companies are in league with their woke government accomplices to stamp out dissenting opinions, the would-be censors are unable to suppress dissenting views completely (which they call “disinformation and misinformation”).

With the existing internet in place the speed of information is swift and the range is worldwide. The web makes it possible to broadcast messages instantly to viewers, readers, and listeners. How does this relate to trust? Even those who deliberately limit their exposure to diverse views must be aware that people see things differently. Some of the views must be wrong (perhaps most), and a thinking person will attempt (and possibly succeed) to classify material as having or lacking merit.

Today individuals are more polarized than ever regarding their political and philosophical positions. In the United States the ruling class has embraced and is pushing woke, leftist, collectivist dogma. And members of the elite are determined to have ordinary people (everyone not in their coterie) submit to their neo-medieval world-view where the “wise leaders” control what ordinary citizens do.

The opposition to the woke ruling class is large, but it is composed of disparate sub-groups. Some have no particular interest in politics, but are repelled by the leftist agenda. Some are conservatives, and a few endorse individualism and are committed to the best manifestations of Enlightenment thinking. Note that in today’s world anyone who regards the leftist agenda as repugnant will not be inclined to trust the establishment.

Consider how many of the predictions and mandates of the ruling class have been exposed as false and counter productive. This must discourage citizens who pay attention from automatically trusting authority. In the last half-century, according to woke “intellectuals,” the world was supposed to freeze, then it was sure to boil-over unless humanity commits to de-industrialization. The future date of the catastrophe is always adjusted to be a few years from now.

During the Covid epidemic the importance of wearing masks frequently shifted. Masks are for healthcare professionals only. No, they are for everyone. Wait, you should wear two masks. Cloth masks are effective; no they are not. Hey serf, just wear the mask under your nose (to signify your fealty) and do what your betters tell you to do.

Recently the FDA – the gold standard of government wisdom on matters of health – has admitted that an over-the-counter decongestant (phenylephrine) is not effective. For a long time the FDA endorsed the compound as being a viable substitute for another decongestant (pseudoephedrine) which by law is sold behind-the-counter because it can be used to make methamphetamine. Apparently, FDA officials were aware of the shortcomings of phenylephrine for many years but waited until now to make the official announcement. This episode demonstrates that the FDA, and government agencies in general, are not reliable sources of information. There is no justification for reflexively accepting their pronouncements.

The lesson to be learned is that it is healthy to be skeptical. If a subject is important to you, investigate, and do your own research. This is the opposite of having trust as your default. Yes, you might make errors and fail to distinguish what is and is not true. But blind trust, suspending or relinquishing your judgement, is never the right choice.

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