Friday, September 2, 2011

The Trickle-Down of Distrust

How We Elect Leaders Is Pulling America Apart
Cause and effect are often difficult to prove. This is especially true when there are a lot of "moving parts." When it comes to all of the unrest in the world, we have to examine and weigh the contributions of economics, religion, culture, ego, etc. In health care, the complexities and differences in our genetics and in the way research is conducted leads frequently to conflicting reports on nutrition, drugs, supplements, diagnostic tests, etc.

There are also a lot of moving parts in the political arena and here, too, cause and effect are hard to prove. For example, take a look at the gridlock in Washington, and the expanding and deepening incivility in the capitol and across the nation. Is it worse today than in the past? In fact, there has been plenty of political hate over the centuries. We've seen greed, lies, propaganda, impeachment and attempted impeachment, duels, assassinations and attempted assassinations.

And, yet, this all feels different and not in a good way. Never before has there been such a low level of trust in Government and never before have our leaders trusted each other less. There are many factors, of course, that have conspired to whip-up this historic, stomach-turning divisiveness and cynicism. As I said, it's tough to put one's finger on a single cause and effect but here's one hypothesis: Our endless election cycle is destroying America -- our progress, our ethics, and our empathy and cohesion as a people.

Campaigns used to be episodic -- there was a campaign "season." After a few months of electioneering, the bulk of the name-calling and character assassination would be over; politicians would get back to business. There was plenty of time between election cycles for people to make-up, form relationships, and build some mutual respect and trust. Not today.

With drawn-out primaries, the influence of PACs and SuperPACs, the blurring of reporting and opinion and 24/7 media coverage, presidential contenders (not to mention House members) never stop campaigning. And, they never stop bashing their opposition. It's become more strident, more shocking, in the same way we crave more and more stimulation and outrageous behavior in reality TV shows, radio programs and computer games. The baseline of acceptability, what we're calling normal, has been shifting for some time. In my view, however, the line has been crossed.

Conventional wisdom tells us that politicians are thick-skinned; it's "just politics," no one takes it personally. Wrong. The rhetoric has become more personal and it is, indeed, being taken personally. We can see all the grudges that have formed, with little hope of repair. But the real victims of the constant criticisms are us -- the American people. We're told day in and day out by just about everyone who's out of power that the Government is incompetent. We can't trust the Government to lead. We're told by a great number of companies in highly regulated industries that we can't trust the Government to guide economic development. We're driven to take sides. We're told it's all or nothing.

Sadly, with all the repetition, we're buying-in to the message. Our trust in government has eroded to its lowest point since scientific political polling began. The self-fulfilling prophecy is for real.

Should we have blind faith in government institutions? Of course not! But the side effects of all the political positioning and posturing is that we've become meaner, less tolerant and more uncompromising. With heals dug-in, few are optimistic that our leaders will deliver any meaningful solutions to our enormous challenges. While our Founding Fathers would marvel at our technological advances, they'd be horrified to see the increasing dysfunction and distrust. Their words are quoted often but heeded rarely. The "big picture" is lost while politicians ride the endless merry-go-round of raising and spending campaign cash and undermining the very institution they claim to cherish.

Between blog posts, you can follow me @pauloestreicher.

1 comment:

or said...

Hi Paul! I agree with what you say.
In my opinion this has been going on in Israel as well.
The citizens remember the founding politicians as leaders who were born of the people itself, who were aimed and cared more for the good of the nation and its inhabitants (even the non jewish ones, such as druze, beduins, etc.) then they did about their seat of power.
Nowdays their memory is mostly used to contrast the corrupt nature of politicians in Israel today.
However, I am not as naive as to believe people back then were more saints then the people now.
However - I believe that honor played a much bigger role then.
An example: About 30 years ago there was a law in Israel forbidding the ownership of US dollars. The wife of Itzhak Rabin, had an account of dollars her husband earned while lecturing in the states. When the press found out Rabin resigned from being prime minister of Israel even though there was no law saying he had to do so.
Today, literally every day Israeli politicians are exposed as taking bribes, abusing their power, etc. and not one of them stands up and takes any form of action - not apologies, nothing.
Nowdays in Israel, there is very little trust in the government as well. Our politicians mostly do not know honor and do not care much for it.