The Funny Thing About Trust
By A.D. Freudenheim  

13 January 2004

As most Americans begin in earnest the process of finding shelter from politics, so as to escape the upcoming elections most effectively, those of us who remain standing outside waiting for the opportunity to attend a caucus, a primary, or eventually the general election, might ask ourselves a simple question about the candidates: who do we trust? Or perhaps, more pointedly: do we trust President Bush, the man with the most to lose in November 2004?

We should, first of all, put aside conspiracy-theory rumors about President Bush’s advance knowledge of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon; perhaps he did know what was coming in the broadest terms, but even most serious and cynical Bush detractors should agree that he is unlikely to have permitted intentionally the death of several thousand American civilians and the destruction of billions of dollars of U.S. Property. Let us also put aside questions of trust as they relate to the war on Iraq – not because they are irrelevant but because they are so evident and obvious: Mr. Bush lied. If Weapons of Mass Destruction are found in copious quantities, if evidence is revealed that proves the Bush-Blair contention that Saddam Hussein could launch many dangerous missiles in mere minutes, if real and true evidence is offered connecting Hussein and Osama bin Laden, then Mr. Bush’s credibility on the Iraq war might be restored. But that is all unlikely. In the meantime, the President has achieved a reasonably positive end (toppling a brutal dictator) but has done so by egregiously abusing the public trust.

However, the Iraq example does have value when compared to other current examples from the news: Mr. Bush used Iraq to scare Americans – and there are other situations where it seems as though the Bush Administration wants us to remain scared through the November election. Why? Because one of the two areas of policy where the Republicans generally have the upper hand is in security and the use of force (at least, in perception of their willingness to use it, if not in reality). This need to scare us has manifested itself in the pre-holidays raising of the “terror alert” system to a code orange, the second-highest degree of warning. What better way to get Americans on edge than to shake their complacency pre-Christmas?! We have been systematically, procedurally, intentionally frightened by the ongoing series of airline security warnings, and the fights with other nations to make sure they have armed guards on all flights to the U.S. But really: with all of the security technology available to us, was it necessary to send the same flights back for multiple security checks for several days running? We had enough “intel” to know there was a potential threat on the plane – but not enough intelligence to scan all the luggage, check all the passengers, and then clear the plane for departure in a single day? The Israelis do it all the time, but the grand coalition partnership of the U.S. and Britain couldn’t manage to get a British Airways flight off the ground for several days running? The obvious purpose here was to scare us.

Similarly, the inaptly-named global “war on terrorism” will probably unfold in a way that is beneficial to Mr. Bush. Again, nothing as cynical as an intentional attack, a series of otherwise-preventable American deaths that are allowed in the name of re-election, this will instead be a much more subtle mastering of the “prosecution” of the war itself, with a series of well-timed victories mixed with a few major and minor international incidents – all intended to keep us healthily and helpfully scared, and, as a result, voting Republican. Unfortunately, there is little an opposition candidate from any party can do in such a situation, since the key elements of international power are managed by the incumbent president; challengers must find a way to make a compelling case that Mr. Bush’s policies themselves help create rather than discourage terrorism.

Mr. Bush has betrayed Americans’ trust in other ways, too – and looks set to continue doing so. Elected on a platform that pledged smaller government, he has presided over the largest expansion in the Federal government since the Johnson Administration. One might almost expect the Democrats to be happy about this Federal growth, except that since they cannot claim credit for it, there isn’t much for them to be happy about. Balanced budgets? Out the window. Less divisiveness in politics? Not hardly. Calling (cynically) for more rights for illegal workers who, under other circumstances – where Mr. Bush might be less concerned about the Hispanic vote in 2004 – would be treated harshly and rapidly deported? Not trustworthy, given that the legislation for such would have to pass through a Republican-controlled Congress inherently opposed to such moves; an easy political maneuver with few consequences for the President..

In the 2000 elections, Americans were asked to trust Mr. Bush, to believe that he is a man of his word. This kind of discussion – about how one should believe in a particular candidate, as opposed to agreeing with their views – are often heard from Americans who are asked about their voting plans. The question is not meaningless, but it is close to being so, because it is, in the end, quite impossible to trust anyone who winds up as President of the United States (or of any other nation). Once one has been handed the reigns of power, the single most important goal becomes reelection (or the election of one’s anointed successor). A major failure of democracy revealed! Alas, the balancing act here was supposed to be the electorate; but since most Americans don’t vote, the process is not functioning as originally anticipated. So, when and if you approach a voting booth in the next 11 months, think about this question of trust, and who it is you think most reliable, trustworthy - and then, ultimately, how you will feel about them when they shatter that trust and treat it like the irrelevancy it is.

  Copyright 2004, by A.D. Freudenheim. May not be used in whole or part without written permission. However, you may link to this page as desired! Contact A. D. Freudenheim for further information.
This page is part of: The Truth As I See It.