Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Collapse of Trust

As naive as it may sound, we all want to believe our leaders. Regardless of their party or their political alliances, we all hope that the people we have elected will do what is best for the country. We have been disappointed again and again, but like the ever-hopeful people that we are, we keep thinking every time we go into the voting booth that this is the one who will really do right by us.

Perhaps because we saddle them with such a heavy burden — no one can live up to the goals that someone else sets for them based on an ephemeral wish — that we are so harsh when they disappoint us and we discover all too our regret that they are human, heir to all the flaws that come with that terrible curse of being simply just another one of us who makes mistakes, occasionally exaggerates a claim, or just plain lies to cover up a mistake. As several administrations have found to their peril, covering up is worse than the deed itself. The best thing to do is admit the truth, take your lumps, and move on with life. People can be remarkably forgiving when you own up to your flaws and make amends.

As Sidney Blumenthal notes, that lesson seems to be lost on the current administration.

Bush is entangled in his own past. His explanations compound his troubles and point to the original falsehoods. Through his first term, Bush was able to escape by blaming the Democrats, casting aspersions on the motives of his critics and changing the subject. But his methods have become self-defeating. When he utters the word “truth” now most of the public is mistrustful. His accumulated history overshadows what he might say.

The collapse of trust was cemented into his presidency from the start. A compulsion for secrecy undergirds the Bush White House. Power, as Bush and Cheney see it, thrives by excluding diverse points of view. Bush’s presidency operates on the notion that the fewer the questions, the better the decision. The State Department has been treated like a foreign country; the closest associates of the elder President Bush, Brent Scowcroft and James Baker, have been excluded; the career professional staff have been bullied and quashed; the Republican-dominated Congress has abdicated oversight; and influential elements of the press have been complicit.

Were this just an ordinary time when there were not real-life threats to our life and health and future, such a paranoid compulsion for secrecy and tailor-made truths wouldn’t be such a big deal. But, as we are frequently reminded, there are no “ordinary” times.