Why Trust Erodes

A couple of days ago, I linked to an essay by David Frum, in which he encouraged “reform” of the current conservative movement, and professed to see some signs of that reform emerging. I hope he’s right, because this country desperately needs two responsible, reality-based political parties.

As Jonathan Chait put it recently:  “The radicalism of the current Republican Party – its ideological extremism, disdain for empiricism, the inability to share or modulate power – is, to me, the central problem in American life. In the long run, the resolution to nearly every policy problem depends on the GOP refashioning itself as a normal, non-pathological party.”

For specific examples of what Chait is referencing, see this post on “The Wonk Gap.”

In today’s world, governments must fashion policy in areas so complex that average voters simply cannot be expected to understand the underlying challenges or the proposed interventions; we increasingly need the expertise of the relevant specialists–policy wonks. And we need to be able to trust that those specialists are telling us the truth as they see it. When the experts are willing to place partisanship above honesty, when people who presumably know what they’re talking about are delivering fundamentally inconsistent messages, citizens either withdraw from the political arena or they choose to believe the experts who are telling them what they want to hear.

In either case, governance suffers.


  1. We are in a position where we can make decisions that greatly improve our world …or not. We need people who understand their science book. Energy – Health – Environment…. all Science based. People who are only guided by their holy books, imaginary friends and trust only their “gut” when dealing with our national and local issues have not served us well. Trusting ones “gut” and holy book has led us into war quite recently. Never again. Lets get back to FACTS. Enjoy the other stuff on the weekend but M-F we need to stay fact based. Just the facts Mamm. Just the facts. (Says Joe Friday 😉

  2. It is not so much what is said by the specialist but how the media interpret what is said. Global warming is a good example. There is a preponderance of data and a consensus among the most knowledgeable scientists in the related scientific fields that increased concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere are causing climate change. The media, depending on their political philosophy, cover it as either fact or as a nefarious plot against industry and coal fired utilities. Neither the current governor nor his predecessor, who is now a university president, believed in global warming. The endocrine disruptor problem is another good example. The EPA or WHO put out reports, authored by experts in the field, that are immediately challenged by some scientist and public interest groups that, in some cases, have an ax to grind. Much of the problem is the abominable scientific ignorance of the public. Good science is neither liberal nor conservative, but that is hard for people to recognize, even some scientists.

  3. Oh, but good science is political when it threatens to gore your ox. Then it’s all about politics–science, data, inferential statistics and journals notwithstanding. Then we ignore all empirical data, focus on the political hacks who told us what we wanted to hear, led us down the path and claim that there is a great conspiracy afoot. Now with that kind of thinking going on, it’s pretty hard to have a rational discussion. I’m pretty sure that is what David Frumm is talking about. I guess that in some ways, like Glenn Beck, I long for the old days when Republicans had some sense and people were coming to agree that breathing the gas from burning fossil fuels killed you. And now we understand, even more deeply, how burning fossil fuels will kill us all in a number of different ways. Folks don’t seem to realize that it makes no difference how rich you are if you are dead.

  4. RMvF; those abominable scientifically ignorant members of the public cannot recognize climate change even when watching the daily weather forecasts on the news or notice the difference in our local weather patterns over the past few years. A few years ago, people seemed to understand and believe the statement “we are destroying the environment” but terms such as Climate Change and Global Warming seems to confuse them. They also seem to believe those terms are interchangable. As for the health aspect of science; we are seeing more and more cancers in our families and friends than a few years ago, proving the reports of giant strides made in cancer research and treatment are lies and media hype. We eat, drink, breathe and wear poisons in the air and used to treat our foods and process products we use daily. This brings about more serious illnesses in people of all ages.

    Partisanship has worsened during recent years and the “No” party has called a halt to forward motion in this country on all levels; this can only continue to erode our trust. How do we rebuild this trust and regain the pride in America and being Americans when the country is being held hostage by John Bonner and a Congress that wastes valuable time and money repeatedly trying to repeal the ACA (which admittedly needs work in some areas) while voting “No” on almost every bill before them and leaving vacancies in high-level positions of government as they pout about or refuse to accept the fact they lost the presidential election – AGAIN. They have taken every obstuctive action except picking up their marbles and going home. Our trust has eroded and corroded and our faith is waning while our frustration and anger at the current situation seethes and grows. And what lies ahead of us but more of the same…and worse?

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