The End of Trust?

Sorry folks, but the answer is yes.  As if you didn’t know.

Dwight D. Eisenhower photo portrait.

Dwight D. Eisenhower (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rather than me listing all the sources we generally don’t trust, just make your own list.  To the extent we trust is the extent to which those people have shown signs of thinking as we do.  Sticking with like minds is one of several factors that foster an increasingly polarized electorate, but that is a secondary effect to the primary one:  a loss of trust in government, science, social science and journalism.

What used to be trusted authorities, more or less, now seem dubious depending on one’s biases.   Coupled with that is the ease in which we all can find support for whatever theory or prejudice we have through Twitter or the internet, that razor sharp double edged sword.

In order to contemplate ways to restore trust, it seems useful to recollect how we lost it.  Yes, that really deserves a book or two, but who has time to read two more books, if one reads books at all.    So, if you cut me some slack I’ll try to give a sort of fairy tale synopsis, which can be amended later.

Once upon a time there was a generally well liked President called Ike.  There were lots of  “I like Ike” buttons around to prove it.   Frankly, Ike’s eight years in office in the 50s seemed pretty dull, a time  one writer described as “when America stood still.”   I think he meant culturally, though.  A lot was actually happening in Ike’s two terms, a national highway system for one, housing developments  burgeoning, another.  Also, though not Ike’s fault, McDonalds were beginning to pop up all over  like weeds.  They had ever changing signs telling the numbers of burgers sold, while it was still only in the millions.

Culturally, there were some ripples  in the form of rock and roll and a handful of so-called “beatniks”, who provided a little color to a white bread landscape.   Also, socially, racial injustice was made more obvious to we whites, many like myself, who lived in virtually  all white towns.   First, by blacks demonstrating in the south where the trampling of their human rights was most outrageous.

It was also a time when government seemed to work.   Good President Ike was a Republican, but he was a moderate one, who did not rail against  “liberalism”, a good idea since it reigned theoretically supreme while conservatism was fighting for attention.

The authority of certain figures and institutions to be  arbiters of knowledge was generally accepted.   Science and scientists were particularly respected.  Scholarly efforts in history and political science also were assumed to be relatively impartial and informative, except by right wing extremists, like the  John Birch Society.  And journalists were generally believed to be fairly  “objective” with the The New York Times the gold standard in that profession.

Such were the days during the two terms of President Ike, days that keep looking better all the time.   Than John Kennedy was elected along with his elegant wife Jackie and the White House appeared to be a second coming of Camelot.   Certainly a lot more sparkle than the days of Ike and Mamie.  JFK has been dubbed the first TV president.  He wouldn’t have stood a chance without TV, according to David Halberstam, a well respected and prolific journalist now deceased.

Kennedy, an undistinguished short-time senator, would have remained too obscure to beat the Democratic party apparatus without televison. He played to the cameras as if each was a Stradevarius and he was Itzhak Perlman, while looking fresh as a daisy.  Then there was poor Richard Nixon, who was visibly sweaty and looked a little unshaven.  All of his experience and brains undone by a case of the sweats and black stubble broadcast throughout the land.  Our periodic silly seasons began at that moment.  (Nixon also came off as a used car salesman, which didn’t help.)

All seemed possible in the land of Camelot until President Kennedy was shot in Dallas in 1964.  I was in college when classes were called off after hearing the news.   Girls broke dates that weekend feeling it not fitting to be out partying at a time of national mourning.  Not that I had a date to begin with, but………..and then a couple days later, sitting watching TV with my fraternity brothers, there was Oswald, the killer, walking between deputies when this fellow, Jack Ruby, jumped out and shot him, RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF US .  Now that was reality TV.

When I think of JFK, I think of two legacies (while I try to forget all the womanizing).  One, was a fresh sense of  idealism captured in the words:  “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”  I bet one could write an interesting book on those whose lives were changed by those words.  The famous diplomat, Richard Holbrooke, now deceased, would be among them.  The other legacy;  he left us with a big toe in Vietnam.  His supporters argue he meant to withdraw it after he won a second term that was not to be.

As for our still trusting government, scientists, journalists, etc.  All of this was still pretty much in tact and “liberalism” was about to really take charge  in terms of President Johnson’s “great society” programs  and changes in civil rights laws.

It has often been said that what Kennedy wanted to do, Johnson did do.  Not inspiring, like JFK, Johnson was a rough cut outsized Texan who had spent years in congress prior to becoming the VP and then an accidental president.  Also unlike Kennedy, he knew how to twist arms better than Hulk Hogan, and he wanted to establish a liberal legacy that out shone that of the Kennedys.   Sadly, he also wanted to jump into Vietnam with both feet, which diverted money away from his great society and eventually forced him out of office,  in disgrace in the eyes of many.

In terms of “the end of trust” Johnson sewed the seeds for the beginning of the end in two ways.  First, through the famous  “daisy” attack ad against Barry Goldwater that cemented his winning his own term as president.  Second, his lying us deeply into the quagmire of a Vietnam War.   Both can be considered breaches in trust that would have lasting consequences.  More about each in my next post.

Well, boys and girls, that’s  enough for now.  For those wanting to hear more of the story, I’ll put up a special post this Sunday and then likely finish it all up with my regular post on Tuesday .

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