June 1st, 2015 // 6:15 pm @ Oliver DeMille
(Should Presidents be Treated Like Royalty?)
News and Fans
A strange thing happened recently. President Obama visited my state, just a quick flight and a few meetings. But to watch the state news reports, you would think the most important celebrity in all of history was visiting. The media simply fawned over the president. The news channels broke into all the nightly television programs and gave special reports. Not on some major announcement, but on…wait for it…the President arriving at his hotel.
Reporters were on the scene. Anchors cut back and forth between the reporters and expert guests opining on how long the President’s day flight been and how much longer before he would arrive at the hotel. This went on and on. No news. No policies. No proposals. No events. No actual happenings.
Just a president and his entourage arriving in a plane, being driven to the hotel, and staying overnight. The reporters and other news professionals—on multiple channels—were positively giddy.
I shook my head in amazement. The American founders would have been…well, upset. At least Jefferson would. Adams? That’s a different story altogether. In fact, it got me thinking.
John Adams, the second president of the United States, made a serious mistake during his term in office. He had served for a long time as ambassador to the English crown, and he picked up some bad habits in London. He witnessed the way members of Parliament treated the top ministers in the British Cabinet, and how the ministers themselves fawned over the King.
He had, likewise, watched how the regular people in England bowed and scraped to the aristocracy. Almost everyone in Britain saw every other person as either a superior, an inferior, or, occasionally, an equal. This class system dominated the culture.
And, as an ambassador of the American colonies, Adams had been pretty low on the pecking order in London. He had seen how this aristocratic structure gave increased clout to the King, to Cabinet members, and to the aristocrats. So when he became president, he wanted the U.S. Presidency to have this same sense of authority, power, and awe.
In fairness, reading between the lines, I think president Adams’ heart was in the right place: He thought this would help the new nation gain credibility in the sight of other nations. He wanted the president to be treated like royalty.
But Adams forgot something very important.
Aristos and Servants
Americans weren’t raised in such a class system. They found such bowing-and-scraping to the aristos both offensive and deeply disturbing. For them, this was one of the medieval vestiges of the old world that America (and Americans) had gratefully left behind. The principle behind this was simple: if we treat leaders like aristos and kings, they’ll start acting like aristos and kings, and our freedoms will be in grave danger.
Moreover, Americans felt that such “prostration before their betters” was especially inappropriate where government officials were concerned. “Government leaders work for us,” was the typical American view. And if the citizens start acting like their leaders are aristocrats and royalty, they’ll stop thinking and acting like fiercely independent free citizens.
But still Adams wanted the people to treat the president like royalty. Jefferson was appalled at Adams’ words and behavior in this regard, and his criticisms of President Adams’ on this matter fueled a rift between these two men that lasted almost two decades. At times, the biting rivalry and harsh words bordered on hatred—if not of each other, certainly of the other’s behavior.
Jefferson believed in a democratic culture, where each person would be judged by his choices and character—not by class background. Even more importantly, he believed that, in fact, government officials do work for the people—and the higher the office, the more they are servants of the people.
As president himself, Jefferson went out of his way to avoid and reject any “airs” or special perks of office. He saw himself as simply a man, one of the citizens, who had the responsibility to serve all the other citizens. He wasn’t superior to them—he was the least of them, their servant, their humble servant.
After 8 years as president, Jefferson had established this as the way each president should be viewed: a regular citizen, serving as president while elected, but not treated as inherently royal, superior, or in any way better than anyone else. No perks, no special treatment. Yes, security for the Commander in Chief obviously needed to be different than for the average person. But other than that, no aristocratic fawning was appropriate.
Madison followed the same model, and after him Monroe. So did John Quincy Adams and other presidents through the eras of Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and FDR. Truman angrily rejected any attempts to put him on an aristocratic pedestal.
Eisenhower rebuffed aristocratic perks both as a general and later as president, and Kennedy did the same in many ways—leaving his expensive upper-class clothes at home and dressing more like the people he worked with each day while in Washington. Reagan openly pushed against any aristocratic airs; as a movie star he was accustomed to celebrity, but clearly avoided it as president. He wanted to be a man of the people, a servant.
And even while Adams tried to promote a higher level of fawning over the president, at least the media of his era had the good sense to criticize him for it. To take him to task. To note that such is not the American way.
But something changed, somewhere along the way. Was it because Kennedy was considered American “royalty” even before the presidency, or because Reagan was already a Hollywood celebrity before he occupied the White House? Or did the change come during the Clinton era, or the Bush years? (Ironic that such fawning of the Chief Executive came after Nixon.)
Or was it the way Hollywood portrayed presidents—with actors like Michael Douglas or Martin Sheen glibly spouting a sense of arrogant power and aristocratic entitlement? Did entertainment capture our national imagination?
When did we start seeing the world as classes of royals, aristos, and “regular” people? When did “celebrity” become an accepted reason for special treatment in America?
Should we respect the offices held by our political leaders? Absolutely. Should we honor those who serve? Absolutely. Too often the level of civic discourse today is coarse and angry. More respect is needed. And, just as importantly, less aristocratic fawning is needed.
I once wrote about experiencing this trend firsthand while hosting a visiting dignitary many years ago. After an evening event, we went to a restaurant. The dignitary and I naturally walked to the back of the line, but one of the other hosts hurried to the front of the line and arranged for a “VIP table.” As we walked past the rest of the line, people vocally grumbled. We heard words like: “Hey, don’t cut in line,” and “You can wait your turn, just like the rest of us.”
When the other host responded by telling the people in line the dignitary’s title and name, the frustration grew louder. “We’re Americans too,” one man said. “We don’t worship titles in this country. Wait your turn.” A number of similar words were exchanged. The dignitary demanded that we go back to the end of the line just like everyone else.
Fast forward over two decades later. A similar scene. I walked with a dignitary to the back of a large restaurant line, and someone in our group arranged for us to go straight to our table. As we passed the line, people asked, “Who’s cutting in line?”
But these voices weren’t angry. They were just curious. “It’s a celebrity,” someone said. “Oh, okay,” was the general consensus. “Of course. Let him ahead, then.” Apart from trying to see if they recognized the person, everyone in the line seemed totally content to let a celebrity pass.
The earlier line had been made up mostly of people from the Greatest Generation and the Boomers, while the second line consisted mainly of Gen X and Millennials. The U.S. clearly changed during the two decades between these experiences. But is the change a good one?
It’s an important question: Can we maintain a democratically free society when the broad culture sees people as “superiors,” and “inferiors”? When we as Americans have come to see celebrities as naturally deserving special perks, and government officials as people to be submitted to? Won’t that change how we vote?
Indeed, it already has.
Focus and Fawning
Would John Adams like the way Americans now treat their presidents and other celebrities? What would the British aristos of the American Founding era think of Americans today? Are we just as “domesticated” as the London populace of their time? We don’t exactly “bow” yet, but have we become a nation that “bows and scrapes” before people we see as “our betters?”
And if this applies to “power celebrities,” meaning government leaders, what does that say about the American people as wise stewards and overseers of freedom? Politeness is good, no doubt. But which is classier:
- A people who move aside for aristos, craning their necks to catch a glimpse of celebrity and snap a photo on their phones, or,
- A people who think everyone is an important leader because we are all citizens of a great, free nation?
Whatever Adams would think of the way many Americans now turn giddy in the presence of political leaders, Jefferson, Washington, Franklin and Madison would not like it. Jefferson would certainly call foul. This is not the way to maintain a true democratic republic.
Treat everyone like aristos, or no one. Period. That’s the only way to be equal and fair.
Don’t treat some like aristos and others like commoners. Because if we do, freedom will quickly decline. (It will decline more for the commoners than the aristos, by the way.) Even Adams hated such obsequiousness when he witnessed it in Europe.
Clearly, as mentioned, the security of top leaders is very important. So is the security of everyone else, but it is true that top officials and celebrities often face more frequent threats. Also, more respect in our civil discourse is needed. But the servile toadying to political celebrity by many in our current populace and even media is a disturbing trend.
Again, we should certainly be respectful of important office. But sycophancy isn’t the American way—as Adams learned when the “commoners” refused to give him a second term. In fact, they instead entrusted the presidency of their nation to the leading voice of democracy and equal treatment for all citizens: Thomas Jefferson.
We should be so wise. Give us a president who stands what matters—boldly, openly, and effectively—while simultaneously rejecting the perks and “airs” of aristocracy, or worse, an Americanized royalty.
Give us a president who vocally reminds us that he or she is just one of the citizens. And who openly remembers and operates on the principle that we, the people, are the real leaders of the nation. It’s time for the media servility and simultaneously smug superiority of the White House to be replaced with what our nation actually needs—quality, grown up, leadership by someone who truly understands what makes freedom tick. The people.
As for the media, focus more on policy and principles, less on ratings and the “royals who lead us.” And none at all on what hotel somebody stays in. There are people with real needs in this country, and current policies are hurting millions of American citizens. Let’s fix them. Starting with spending our media airtime on what really matters.
April 17th, 2015 // 8:33 am @ Oliver DeMille
(How the White House is Touting Misleading Economic “Recovery” Numbers)
Lies and Facts
Mark Twain popularized the idea that there are lies, darn lies, and then statistics. The implication is that statistics are often the worst lies of all, because most people don’t really understand what they mean.
Lenin added that when money is part of the equation, very few people understand the numbers and what is really going on.
To bring this home, the White House keeps assuring us that the Great Recession is over, and that the U.S. economy is now doing much better. In the 2015 State of the Union Address, for example, President Obama tried to put the nation at ease about the economy. He told us that the economy is in recovery, the worst is past, and we can turn our thoughts to other topics.
Since that speech, the White House has repeatedly reassured us that the economy is now doing well.
But the facts simply don’t tell the same story. In fact, they tell a different tale indeed.
Recovery and Disaster
One of the biggest statistical “lies” is that unemployment is now under control. But this a purely statistical fiction, based on the way the government calculates unemployment numbers.
Officially, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate is now down to 5.5. To compare, the average unemployment rate under the Bush Administration was 5.3, and under the Obama Administration it has averaged 8.3. So getting down to 5.5 is good. But it’s also misleading.
The 5.5 rate is this low only because the Labor Participation Rate (the number of people who have a job or are actively trying to get one) is way down. It’s currently only 62.7%, matching the lowest since 1978, which means that a lot of unemployed people have given up trying to get a job.
As columnist George Will put it: “If the work force participation today were as high as it was on the day Barack Obama was inaugurated, the unemployment rate in this country would be 9.7%.” That’s not a recovery, it’s a major economic disaster. And it’s getting worse, because the participation rate is going down.
Numbers and Reality
Also, a large number of those who are now “employed” according to the government statistics are actually working in jobs that pay much less or offer a lot fewer hours than those they had before the downturn. Such people don’t consider themselves out of the Recession—and won’t until they get back to making as much as they did before.
For example, counting a person who lost his or her $32,000 a year job and is now making $11 an hour for a shorter work week as “employed” might make sense on the statistical report, but it’s not good for the worker or his/her family. They’ve taken an almost 50% pay cut, while the cost of living is still going up. And given the new Obamacare regulations, the number of hours isn’t likely to go up for these people.
The current unemployment statistics may look good on television, or play well in White House press briefings, but only because most people don’t know what the statistics actually mean or how they are configured.
A lack of real, widespread education makes a people easy to sway, and easy to control. Too many of today’s citizens are accustomed to simply accepting whatever the experts and officials say without really thinking or even questioning. This reality makes freedom a lot more difficult to maintain.
March 31st, 2015 // 5:57 am @ Oliver DeMille
(Transportation without Representation)
It’s a big thing in the print media, right now. It shows up in article after article. Where do property rights end and airspace rights begin? When the jet planes or smaller Cessna’s were flying above at 21,000 feet or even 900 feet, most people didn’t care if they went directly over one’s property.
But what happens in the coming Drone Era when drones fly 10 or 20 feet above your backyard on their way to deliver a book, a box of peaches, or toilet paper to your neighbors? (Popular Science, January 2015, page 71) Is that a violation of your property? Or your privacy? Certainly, if they run into your tree or hit your power line, you’re going to call it a bit intrusive, but what if they just fly past?
And, as more people are asking, how can you tell if they are simply delivering the morning paper or taking video of your family as they fly by? Or both? And who owns that drone that will be flying past, anyway? Amazon? WalMart? The government? Which government—state, local, federal? Or a private individual, like your teenage daughter’s stalker who is hoping to catch a glimpse of her in a swimsuit?
Sound creepy? A lot of people think so. In fact, Audi has taken advantage of this rising realization that drones are going to be part of our lives and made a commercial—a “horror” commercial, if there is even such a genre. Here’s how it unfolds:
A group of business people are standing in a lobby, waiting to go to the parking lot. A company spokesman tells them to act normal, “don’t run.” We all wonder what he means. Then the crowd leaves the building and we see the menace: a fleet of drones hovering above the parking lot like attackers in Hitchcock’s classic horror film “The Birds.”
“Stay calm,” everyone is told. But, of course, they all run away instead—sprinting for their cars, briefcases and handbags with coattails flapping in the wind as they go. There is screaming, drones dart down at the people like fighters on a sci-fi movie; everyone panics.
Except one guy. He quickly but calmly opens the door to his car, which just happens to be an Audi, and gets in. He tells the car computer to plot him a course to what seems to be his off-the-grid getaway—a cabin by the lake.
As he drives, the car is pursued by attacking drones, targeting it like an army of invading Cylons, or like X-wings racing along the surface of the Death Star. “The force, Luke. The force…”
But the Audi evades them, causing two of them to crash into each other. And “Luke” races off to safety. The voice in the commercial tells us that some technology is very helpful—no need to be afraid. If technology attacks, other, better technology will help us fight back.
It’s funny. It’s catchy. And it hits on a theme that is all too real for many people: Do we really want drones invading our personal airspace, every few minutes, all day long? Is there anything we can do to stop it? Or is it just a fait accompli?
Big Brother is Coming?
For decades, Hollywood has sold the dangers of technology gone wrong. The huge, awkward “communicators” of 1970s Star Trek have become a reality; in fact we now have phones much tinier than those once imagined on screen. On the one hand, technology is fascinating, and interesting to us all. On the other, are there real threats? Could fleets of robots be flying past our homes every day, every hour, without our permission? Answer: “Yes. Absolutely.”
Is this just “A Happy March to the Future” or should we be sounding the alarm, Paul Revere-like: “Big Brother is Coming”? Is it “A Better World!” or are we facing a major case of “Transportation without Representation!”?
Will the government be the problem in the Drone Era (sending its drones to spy on its own citizens), or will it be the solution (protecting us from private drone infringements)? Here are three thoughts on this:
- 13% of those polled by The Atlantic believe that within ten years 75% or more of Americans will own a personal drone. (The Atlantic, November 2014, page 84)
- Instead of checking your bags and paying the extra fees, travelers might be able to ship their luggage directly via their personal drone—the bags will be waiting for you at your hotel’s front desk. Nice.
- From an article in Popular Science: “Humphreys [director of the Radionavigation Laboratory at the University of Texas] thinks regular Joes will want to defend their privacy too [just like governments and corporations do].” Humphreys said: “I have a sense that a shotgun is going to be first thing they’ll grab…” (op cit., Popular Science) Joe Biden will prefer a double-barreled shotgun, no doubt.
But just like in Biden’s neighborhood, in many places shooting within city limits or populated areas is illegal. And shooting the drone itself is illegal as well. (Ibid.)
Behind the Curtain
So, what about your property and privacy rights? There are a lot of questions here. If the government considers a foreign drone flying over U.S. airspace a breach of national security, how can it logically argue that a drone flying over your private property doesn’t reduce your rights—especially if it is taking pictures or shooting video?
But make no mistake, this is exactly what governments are going to argue. If the water and mineral rights for your property are separate from land ownership, for example, why would airspace be any different?
Maybe there will be an airspace market, with special plat maps and zoning commissions, and lots of extra fees paid to attorneys—so that some people can own their own, personal airspace above their yards. Certainly the Clintons and Bushes will want to get in on this, just like they owned their own computer servers.
And, if airspace goes up for sale on the private exchange, maybe some of your neighbors—and various corporations—will want to license or own the airspace just above your yard.
In all of this, one thing seems to stand out: it’s not really the drones that are scary. Audi got it wrong. It’s the people who make the decisions. Heck, now it seems that they even own the air…
Checks and balances could help. If only the majority of voters truly believed in them anymore.
Only parents and educators have the real power to resurrect a society that truly believes in checks and balances. This is a generational battle, and if we lose it again in the current generation (like we did in the last 2), it will likely remain lost for a very long time to come.
March 16th, 2015 // 12:30 pm @ Oliver DeMille
If you follow my articles on a regular basis, you’ve probably noticed that I seldom write about topics that are in the current news cycle. I usually address such issues a week or more after they stop dominating the nightly news. There is an important reason for this.
The way the television news presents many political topics can be very emotional. This often leaves watchers strongly influenced and emotionally geared up—one way or another.
Instead of jumping into that emotional boiling pot, I prefer to take a more reasoned approach. And waiting a few days or weeks can allow people to absorb the news, think about things, and then take a fresh look at the topic once emotions have calmed a bit. This usually leads to deeper thinking and more wisdom.
The topic of the Hillary Clinton emails is just such an issue. Here’s my take on it, and though I think you’ll find it quite different than the various news reports on the subject, I believe this view is well worth considering. So, here goes…
Our current “gotcha” method of politics is a stain on our society. Watch the national news on almost any given evening, and a politician or potential candidate is being attacked for his or her latest weakness, mistake, or controversial choices. And in presidential politics, the din is even more constant.
The latest series of commentaries and diatribes against Hillary Clinton’s emails is yet another example of this problem. News programs clamor to break the latest development, talking heads line up to add their two cents of criticism, and potential 2016 Republican candidates jockey to call for the strongest censure.
Is it any wonder that most Americans don’t like politics very much? Or that many of those who do enjoy it too often treat it all like a reality show—a la Bachelor, Survivor, Celebrity Apprentice, the tabloids, or even the latest Kardashian saga? No surprise that independents shake their heads in disgust. Whichever party is the target of the latest news, the critics from the other side seem to pop up in droves.
Just once I’d love to hear a serious presidential contender step forward and take the high road. “I don’t really care about these allegations,” he or she would say. “I’ll leave that to the press and to people who are interested in these things. For me, they’re just a distraction.
A Better America
“The real question is a lot more important: Is Mrs. Clinton the best person for the job of President? Are her values, goals, and vision for this country what we want to lead us into the years ahead? Will her policies get us where we truly want to go? Because I believe in something I think is better for America, and I’d like to focus on that.
“I believe in an American future where…
“I see the United States making the hard choice to…
“If America is going to get back on track, and really live up to our great potential, every citizen needs to…
“Free enterprise is the hope for our future because…
“What really matters most to America’s next decade is the genuine, heartfelt decision to…
“…and that’s the kind of nation I want to pass on to our children and grandchildren. The policies I’ve outlined will get us there. So I’m not going to get sidetracked by these attacks on my opponent. There is too much at stake. No leader is perfect. Everyone in public office can be attacked by those who have nothing better to do.
“But that’s not really what this election or this nation is about. Not at all. There’s something much more important going on. If Mrs. Clinton is the best leader to take America into the future, then you should vote for her. The rest is mere distraction. If you share her vision and goals, then support her. If not, if you share the vision and direction I’ve outlined today, vote for me.
“These other things may be important, or not, but they aren’t as important as the real challenge—not by a long shot. The true question we should be addressing today is what kind of America do we want, how are we going to get there, and who is the best leader to make it happen? That’s the real issue. And ultimately it’s the only issue that really matters.”
Of course, both parties like to point fingers, make accusations, and jump on the bandwagon when they spot a potential weakness. But that’s not what America is about. Or, if it is, then we’re going to continue into decline. Period.
Taking a Stand
I’m convinced most Americans don’t like the negativity. Yes, it seems to influence elections. And that’s sad. Because it shows a certain lack of independent thought, a missing element of leadership on the part of some voters. A nation dedicated to an ongoing game of gleeful whack-a-mole against the latest candidate’s foibles simply isn’t all that serious about its own future.
I’m not suggesting that the media shouldn’t report the news. Journalists have a job to do, and the nation is more informed when they do it accurately. But voters, candidates and party leaders shouldn’t give in to every temptation to jump into the muck, get happily worked up over every personal flaw in their opponents, or go negative whenever a glimmer of opportunity to criticize someone presents itself.
I know, that’s just politics. But that’s the problem. Politics should be better. “It’s not,” the experts say. But let’s not listen to them. Candidates can choose the high road. If that brings about their loss, they should be proud to lose. To paraphrase Thoreau, if being petty, vindictive, and/or negative is what it takes to get elected, anyone who wins an election should be deeply ashamed.
Besides, we’re tired of candidates who really want to win. We want a candidate who really wants to stand for a great America, and to do so regardless of how many votes such a stand garners or repels. Yes, that might seem naïve to those inside the Beltway, but it’s still true. We want a leader. Really.
Moreover, voters can stop boosting the ratings of those who feed on the negative. If this is idealistic, it’s only because the ideal is worth supporting.
I, for one, am going to just pass on muckraking politics. I’m no fan of Hillary Clinton’s suggested policies, and I won’t be voting for her, but the candidates who jump on the bandwagon to attack her over every new potential negative—I just don’t respect them. Get a platform, take a stand, make us support you because of what you represent, stop grasping at straws and throwing rocks at Hillary. Or at anyone. Stop going on every television program you can and talking about your opponent’s flaws. It makes you look small. It is small, in fact.
I’ll vote for the candidate who takes a stand—not only for the issues I support, but also for the dignity to be professional, classy, positive, and optimistic. And yes, even idealistic and noble in the way he or she treats opponents and those who disagree.
Present and Future
Leaders like George Washington, Winston Churchill, and Ronald Reagan didn’t win by tearing down the other guy, relying on distasteful personal invective, or playing “gotcha” games. These tactics were too petty for them. They laid out a bold vision for their nation, made a case it for it, and let the voters decide whether or not to support it.
And they stayed on message. (For example, Washington spread his influence and vision mainly through letters, not by campaigning. Churchill was notoriously congenial with opponents, and Reagan was famously optimistic even in addressing controversial topics.) They didn’t let the media, polls, or ratings set their talking points.
I want to vote for a candidate with a powerful vision for America’s future and a new era of greater freedom and prosperity, a realistic and principle-based plan to achieve these things, and a firm stand against wasting time attacking others. And I want to live in a nation of voters who turn off the TV or stop watching programs full of angry jabs about little issues.
It’s time for us to get real. Let’s finally get to the big things: Like what we truly want to be as a nation, what policies will take us there, and which leaders can effectively help it happen. Anything less is a vote for more of the status quo—a nation of bickering, blaming, backbiting, and decline—and that’s a bad decision for all of us.
We can do better.
Call for Greatness
So when candidates or their campaigns join the petty negative attack bandwagon, like a group of mean girls bullying on Facebook, instead of just leading us in a Reagan-esque focus on what we need to truly make America great again, I’m going to scratch them off my list. I don’t want a finger-pointing president, or one whose main goal is to win the White House. We’ve had those—from both parties—and they made things worse, not better.
We need a great president. Just look at our economy, the rising national debt, Russia, China, the Middle East, race disputes in our cities, etc. We face real problems, and many of them are incredibly dangerous. No mediocre president will do.
Whoever you are, we need you to be great. And the surest way to be a great president is to be great, to do great, to simply act great. Starting by focusing on your great plan for America rather than trying to win by exposing the flaws in your opponents. We’re tired of small-minded, petty candidates and “leaders.”
I hope a lot of voters will join me in this watch for a real candidate, one whose bold vision, effective plan, refusal to go negative, and deep understanding of freedom and prosperity will make us all proud to be Americans again. If there’s no such candidate out there, then I really don’t care who wins. Anything less just guarantees further decline.
We need a great president, or bust…
And “great” includes positive, optimistic, and unswervingly focused on the big things that really matter.
March 13th, 2015 // 11:02 am @ Oliver DeMille
A Major Change in America
We have a trust crisis in America. Specifically, we don’t trust our major institutions. For example, consider the current American view of government. A Gallup poll asked, “How much of the time do you think you can trust government in Washington to do what is right?”
The response? Only 19% of Americans highly trust government “most of the time.” And, a full 81% don’t trust the government to do the right thing most of the time. That’s huge.
In a 2013 Pew Research Center Poll, 53% of Americans said that the federal government “threatens their personal rights and freedoms.” In fact, for the most part, the more educated people are, the less they believe “Washington will do the right thing most of the time.”
When asked “which of the following will be the biggest threat to the country in the future: big business, big labor, or big government?,” only 26% said big business while 64% said big government. And 83% of Americans said they are “dissatisfied” with “the way the nation is being governed.”
But is doesn’t stop with Washington.
Trust and Angles
Only 25% of Americans have high “trust in the police,” the same amount as those who have great trust in churches/organized religion. A mere 17% have high trust in the medical system, and even less, 12%, have such trust in the public schools. The percentage with high trust in the banks is 10. As important as these institutions are in modern American life, these numbers are dismal.
Indeed, a mere 12% of Americans have high trust in the Supreme Court, only 14% in the presidency, and 4% in Congress. Only 10% have high trust in the criminal justice system, and only 10% have great trust in organized labor. Among adult Internet users in the United States, only 7% trust social media.
This lack of significant trust reflects a major shift in American views. For example, consider the following comparison of institutional trust in 2014 versus 1975 (Op Cit.):
|INSTITUTION||% OF AMERICANS WITH HIGH TRUST IN 1975||% OF AMERICANS WITH HIGH TRUST IN 2014|
|The Medical System||44||17|
|The Supreme Court||20||12|
Looking at this from another angle, only 19% of Americans really trust the federal government and only 19% have high trust in their state government. In other words, we see our state governments in the same negative light as Washington. And only 25% of Americans have high trust in their local governments.
If modern Americans don’t feel that they can trust their local or state governments, schools, the media, banks, Wall Street, the justice system, the police, the courts, Congress, the White House, the Internet, doctors, or churches—who can they trust?
The Status of an Era
As a 2015 TV Guide article put it: “A 2014 Harvard University poll revealed that only 11 percent of Millennials [those born between 1984 and 2001] trust the media to do the right thing most of the time.” And only 8% of Americans have high trust in the news they read on the Internet.
One area of more positive support: When asked to rate certain institutions as “positive” or “negative”, 95% of Americans ranked small business as positive and only 49% said big business was positive. The federal government was ranked positive by 46%, and “Entrepreneurs” by 84%.
In short, most people trust small businesses more than any other institution listed above, more than their local, state, or federal government or any branch of government, and more than the media, health care, public schools, banks, newspapers, the Internet, or churches.
What does this mean for our future? Can we solve our major national problems or overcome serious challenges without strong bonds of societal trust?
And, in fact, do such levels of distrust actually fuel additional problems? Is the mistrust itself a cause of deeper struggles? Meaning: will every difficulty quickly spin into crisis, simply because the level of suspicion and cynicism won’t allow us to come together and work toward constructive solutions? This isn’t just a Washington problem, it’s a true societal problem.
One thing is certain: the era of major trust in big institutions is clearly over.