A society as huge and complex as the United States can run economically only on the basis of acceptance and trust. This has been true for so long it is no longer noticed, like the air. People accept the rules and generally follow them whether or not there is a policeman in attendance. …. All over the the land people go about their business secure that arrangements will be honored and carried out. A high-trust society is a low-cost society.
Of all that has changed over the last decade in the general culture of the United States, I wonder if a widespread loss of trust in the political, media, intellectual and bureaucratic establishments is the most quietly catastrophic of all the damage done to our society of late. It is axiomatic that once trust in an individual, a friend or a spouse is lost, it can almost never be regained; one of those things which is easily, almost casually done, never to be completely repaired. I suspect that we will discover over the next few decades that the thinking and observing portion of our society will never regain that unthinking trust in our institutions, now that we have seen them become weaponized in open and politically partisan ways. We have observed the national news media become politically partisan, more intent on hiding matters of significance than informing the public about them. What doesn’t appear above the fold, so to speak, or even in the back pages is sometimes more revealing. And the hate for ordinary American citizens in flyover country, frequently expressed by those residents of the wealthy bicoastal enclaves has been mind-boggling. There are personalities who have been so casually offensive in this regard that I have made it a point to avoid patronizing with my pocketbook anything that they have had anything to do with. I suspect that I am not alone in this – it’s another element of that ‘cold anger’ that I wrote about some days ago. How has it come to be that the so-called ruling elite of a nation now appear to hold their fellow-citizens in such deep contempt? (This contempt has begun to be returned with interest of late, although the ruling elites are predictably mystified by such quiet demonstrations as in the Chick-Fil-A appreciation day, the failure of certain lavishly promoted moves and TV shows, and heavily attended Tea Party rallies of a few years ago.)
My daughter has been watching old television series, on streaming video as she worked on various artistic projects for the upcoming Christmas bazaar season. This week’s choice was McGyver; over walking the doggles one morning she commented that two things about the show slightly boggled her mind; that the character didn’t have the internet (she kept thinking ‘Why didn’t he just google … oh. Never mind’) but the most striking feature was that government agencies like the EPA were seen as as benign, even competent and worthwhile. I did explain to her, how it used to be – how the EPA once did good work, or at least in the eyes of the general public, used to do good work. Other governmental agencies also used to be seen as the good guys … but not any more. Interfering, partisan, abusive busybodies, without much of a mission left, but more passionate and bullying in wielding authority of the crushing sort. When federal regulatory agencies established in-house SWAT teams on their table of organization marked the change from benign to malign.
One of the points that Wretchard makes in the essay linked above is that the low-trust state is fearfully inefficient, frequently corrupt and usually poor; energy that might be turned towards innovation, creation, building – is instead wasted, when a proportion of its’ subjects become enforcers, tirelessly surveilling, documenting, prosecuting and punishing the rest – who as a result spend their own creative energies into twisting, turning, evading and escaping that control. When nothing larger than a toy train layout in the basement can be done without a bribe or the influence of someone within the governing system, innovations and businesses are held down to being marginal, or illicit, and usually both. The nation keeps two sets of books, essentially; the official set and the black market set. Progress dies, strangled at birth, so to speak. Nothing moves, unless the State allows – because unapproved change will upset the comfortable establishment; that just can’t be permitted.
Obama is the man who promised that “…we are going to fundamentally transform America.” That certainly seems to have been accomplished. We still have some space for ourselves, of course. The shelves in the grocery store are still full, gas in Texas is at and around $2.00, Christmas and the local bazaar events are around the corner, our hens are laying, and the pantry is full, so there is cause for optimism.
But not much. Discuss.
(Crossposted at www.ncobrief.com)