I just saw a story from PBS Newshour titled “In Nothing We Trust” on how Americans are losing trust in their institutions. I think our distrust in our institutions is overrated.
The first point of the Boy Scout law is trustworthy. I get what that means. I understand how I can apply that rule in my own life. I'd like to think that people trust me, but I get completely lost when it comes to how we can apply that principle to presidential candidates.
People say they don't trust X candidate. What exactly are we trusting them with? I trust each candidate to keep the status quo of America running: elections continue to happen, people generally have the freedom to go to work and school, and you have a the freedom to live the life you please (within reason.) I trust that our presidential candidates want to let us all do that.
As much as I don't like to say this, I generally like to believe that most everyone running for president does it for mostly noble intentions. Whichever party wins is not going to turn the country over to Russia. They're not going to pull a fast one on us, whatever your infowars-loving uncle may tell you. I trust that they won't institute a coup and kill every congressman and member of the Supreme Court.
Are we supposed to trust them to be good, moralistic people? For that, I generally don't care. Unless they are a member of some neo-nazi cult, I really don't care about the personal lives of presidents. I mean because a lot of them have fooled around: Kennedy, Jefferson, Roosevelt. Warren G. Harding was especially randy. People tend to forgive and forget affairs (See Sanford, Mark). Not that I condone them, but I’m not going to be marrying any of these presidential candidates, so why would I judge them on personal trust?
What do I look for when I trust a person? I hope that I’ll be able to confide in them. That they’ll be able to help me out when I need a hand and that they will be there for me when I need them. The thing is, none of that applies to the president of the United States. Barack Obama is not going to be waiting by his phone waiting for a text from me updating him how my date went. Personal trust is a two-way street that’s just not in feasible with a sitting US President.
I get why some people don’t trust institutions: the church and the abuse scandal, the banks and the mortgage crisis, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Watergate, and any number of other scandals.
But, do we expect one person to change this whole thing? Is one person going to lead us and inspire change in those institutions. NO. One person does not change things. (I like to think Pope Francis has done a good job in rebuilding trust in the church, but that’s required a lot of work.)
Us rebuilding trust requires us to be engaged. It requires us to be diligent citizens who are informed about issues and candidates. We shouldn’t just pick our candidates off of soundbites and tweets. Do research, dig deep. When we all pitch in, trust will follow.