With trust in short supply, it’s time to be optimistic
I knew before I started the trip that my return flight would be trouble.
I rolled into the Tampa airport with a little extra time to survey the damage. Any delay in my morning flight would mean missing my connection in Phoenix.
When I arrived at the ticket counter, the airline had already booked another connecting flight because they knew my first plane was already late. With a listed on-time percentage of 50 percent, I wondered if they just booked everyone a backup to be safe.
As I was standing shoeless in the security line and being told to throw away the water bottle I was drinking out of because it might explode, it hit me that you just can’t trust anything anymore.
It would be easy for pessimism to win the day for anyone who has paid attention to what has happened these last few years.
Paying attention to the news has become an experience of wondering what else could possibly go wrong in the world. Maybe that’s why so many people pass over real news for stories about Britney Spears’ naked romps in swimming pools.
Is there anything else we can put trust in besides the fact that some celebrity will do something entertainingly stupid for our amusement?
The key word here is trust. The public’s trust in just about everything is plummeting.
A slew of recent polls point this out. Trust in President George W. Bush has dropped into the gutter. And they will probably not trust whoever replaces him.
People don’t trust Congress. Voters put Democrats in charge after the last election hoping for change, hoping for an end to the war. That didn’t happen, and now they don’t trust the Democrats, either. The fact that a few more people trust them than they do the Republicans is little comfort.
Even trust in the Supreme Court is dropping, as well as the courts in general. People don’t trust the police, either.
And a poll on CNN showed that 53 percent of the public doesn’t trust the military commanders to report the truth about what is happening in Iraq.
With the drug and gambling scandals, Americans have even lost trust in sports.
One could pray for an escape from the madness, but we have lost faith in religion, too.
And don’t look to science to solve these problems. The public doesn’t trust scientists anymore.
And we find out all of this information through the media, which the public doesn’t trust, either.
What happens in a world where we don’t trust our institutions?
When you look at countries where governments have failed to the point of collapse, the overriding reason seems to be a lack of trust that the government will do what it needs to keep the people safe and secure.
When an institution loses trust, it fails.
But have our institutions failed us, or have we failed them?
As a journalist, I plead guilty to helping fuel this crisis in confidence.
We look for stories about what is wrong with the world, thinking that you can’t fix problems unless people know about them. These are stories about fallible people who make up the institutions in which we need to trust in to live.
But when problems are pointed out with one small part of any institution, we get this uncontrollable urge to paint the rest with the same brush. If there is one dirty politician, then surely the rest are crooks, too, right?
How does one go about pointing out the problems that need fixing without killing the institution?
Perhaps the flood of information brought on by the Internet Age is too much for people to process. In the attempt to make sense of our world, we tend to generalize and stereotype everything.
This allows powerful forces to sow doubt among the public, to purposely undermine institutions for their own benefit. Be they zealots from the left or right, they have no interest in correcting problems, just creating them.
We really are in need of some good news for a change. I got some when I finally arrived in Phoenix. My original connecting flight was still there. It turned out that I didn’t need that backup flight after all. But I had to wait an extra three hours for the second flight, because we just weren’t optimistic enough.
Hopefully someday soon this country gets a healthy dose of optimism. We really need it.
• Kirk Caraway is editor of http://nevadapolitics.com and also writes a blog
on national issues at http://kirkcaraway.com.