Why Trust Matters

In 2009, I wrote a book titled Distrust, American Style. In it, I looked at the issue of trust through the lens of social capital scholarship. Trust and reciprocity are essential to social capital–and especially to the creation of “bridging” social capital, the relationships that allow us to connect with and value people different from ourselves.

I didn’t address an issue that I now see as critical: the intentional production of distrust.

Today’s propagandists learned a valuable tactic from Big Tobacco. For many years, as health professionals insisted that smoking was harmful, Big Tobacco responded brilliantly. Rather than flatly disputing the validity of the claim, a response that would have invited people to take sides and decide who they trusted, their doctors or tobacco manufacturers,  they trotted out their own well-paid “scientists” to claim that the research was still inconclusive, that “we just don’t know what medical science will ultimately conclude.”

In other words, they sowed confusion–while giving people who didn’t want to believe that smoking was harmful something to hang their hat on. If “we don’t really know…,” then why  stop smoking? Just wait for a definitive answer.

It is a tactic that has since been adopted by several interest groups, most notably the fossil fuel industry. Recognizing that– as ice shelves melted and oceans rose– few would believe a flat denial that climate change is real and occurring, they focused their disinformation efforts on creating confusion about what was causing the globe to warm. Thus their insistence that the scientific “jury” was still out, that the changes visible to everyone might be part of natural historical cycles, and especially that there wasn’t really consensus among climate scientists. (Ninety-seven percent isn’t everyone!)

The goal was to sow doubt among all us non-scientists. Who and what should we believe?

Now, as information about Russia’s interference with the 2016 election is emerging, it is becoming apparent that Russian operatives, too, made effective use of that strategy. In addition to exacerbating American racial and religious divisions, Russian bots relentlessly cast doubt on the accuracy of traditional media reporting. Taking a cue from Sarah Palin and her ilk, they portrayed the “lamestream” media as a cesspool of liberal bias.

In fact, the GOP’s right wing has been employing this tactic for years–through Fox, Hannity, Limbaugh and a variety of others, the Republican party has engaged in a steady attack on the very notion of objective fact. That attack reached its apogee with Donald Trump’s insistence that any reporting he doesn’t like is “Fake News.”

Both the Republican and Democratic bases have embraced the belief that inconvenient facts are simply untrue, that reality is whatever they choose to believe. (Granted, this is far more prevalent on the Right, but there’s plenty of evidence that the fringe Left does the same thing.)

The rest of us are left in an uncomfortable gray area, increasingly unsure of the veracity of the items that fill our Facebook and Twitter feeds. It’s bad enough that years of Republican propaganda have convinced the GOP base that credible outlets like the New York Times and Washington Post have “libtard agendas,” but thanks to the explosion of new media outlets made possible by the Internet, even those of us who are trying to access accurate, objective reporting are inundated with “news” from unfamiliar sources, many of which are reliable and many of which are not. The result is insecurity–is this true? Has that been report verified? By whom? What should I believe? Who can I trust?

Zealots don’t worry about the accuracy of the information they act on, but rational people who distrust their facts tend to be paralyzed.

And that, of course, is the goal.


  1. The art of spreading distrust and confusion is in the hands of a real and practiced expert in such tactics. Yesterday his White House spread the notion that Trump would have the US embassy moved to Jerusalem. There was no real announcement, just “believable sources”. All day long there were news reports on the possible ramifications of such a new policy. Then Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced that the president would give a speech or something about it today. By nightfall the world news organizations were pouring out reports of condemnation of such a move, and the White House then leaks that the President won’t do it right away. Maybe in the spring.

    It’s ciaos to cover for incompetence. It’s all deflection and distraction with no meaning. It allows the deconstruction of our government to move forward unnoticed and unreported while the greedy scoop up riches they neither earned or deserved.

  2. FUD Factor. I forget the timing but the R folks went with
    Uncertainty &
    as a mean of confusing things

  3. In the meantime our news and media sources are being purchased and consolidated by right wing plutocrats who intend to own it all so they can completely control the spin on the news that we read or watch.

  4. I am anything BUT afraid, and I trust in one thing – that we have an outline for our society and its basis in a document named the Constitution. But I do have to say – I don’t see this nation rising from the political ashes… this morning MSN online news decided to start carrying the headlines of a NAZI propaganda machine – the daily caller. Look it has been my opinion since before he took office, it is just time to put the foot down and say ‘enough’. They want to play their games – what would happen if for one week – ONE WEEK, the public shut down commerce even 75% of it for ONE WEEK. You’d see the rats screaming then!!! Oh you’d see promises of ‘change’.., it is all about Money and they want their money – they can have it – in Hell. The time is now to just stop this goddamned (and I mean it in its proper sense!) clown bus and show of political whores!

  5. Ms. Bowers,

    You may know this already. In 1995 congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act in which “Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of Israel” According to the Washington Post:
    “The Trump administration has until Dec. 4 to sign a waiver that delays moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem for another six months. Every U.S. president since Bill Clinton has signed it twice a year after Congress passed a bill in 1995 that called for the mission to be relocated.”

    Point being, to your and and Ms. Kennedy’s point, it’s hard getting at the truth.

  6. When you have UNOPPOSED POWER, you can do anything you want to do. Foreign policy can be a big joke. I’ll say it again, America’s biggest problem is Trump’s opposition….. They’re a FAKE TOO.

    You don’t even need a pogrom against the Jews; You can just FAKE ONE and get the same result.

    I just saw a new travel poster: Come to AMERICA: “A Country of nothing but Fools”

  7. John Neal, good to know.

    What I was seeing and hearing yesterday was a deliberately chaotic roll out of a new policy. And as reported this morning it will be years before such a change actually could take place. So, why do it? This has been just another screw ball attempt to obscure what is really going on. AND, Trump & Company have the cooperation of most of the media in their actions knowing that the media will put ratings over country.

  8. After a day of plowing through news reports, then fact checking those that seem dubious, I find it a relief to read Andy Borowitz and “The Onion” to put a little perspective back into my life.

  9. We get this after Donald Trump talks with Judge Roy Moore:

    “The Alabama Republican said he wishes he could tell Soros that he’s going to hell.

    “No matter how much money he’s got, he’s still going to the same place that people who don’t recognize God and morality and accept his salvation are going,” said Moore, who is facing allegations of sexual misconduct by nine women. “And that’s not a good place.”

    It’s not the first time Moore has suggested Soros is targeting him in his race against Democrat Doug Jones. He tweeted a Breitbart story in September about a “George Soros-backed organization attacking Roy Moore.” The story was actually about the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan legal group that’s received funding from Soros’ son, filing a complaint against Moore’s foundation for violating laws relating to charities.

    Moore’s comments fit with ongoing, unfounded right-wing conspiracy theories about Soros being a ringleader of a secret radical left agenda. Many of the theories are grounded in anti-Semitism and are being circulated by far-right sites like InfoWars. Former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly has described Soros as “off the chart dangerous.”

    Just last week, Breitbart, a conservative website that serves as a platform for white nationalists, posted a story titled “Soros Army in Alabama to Register Convicted Felons to Vote Against Roy Moore.” In reality, the story was just about the American Civil Liberties Union helping register felons to vote in Alabama. Felons in the state recently regained a legal right to vote.

    The conspiracies are clearly affecting Moore’s supporters, some of whom told HuffPost last week that they think Soros is paying women to accuse Moore of sexual misconduct.

    “I do not believe the allegations,” said Edna Bogue, 72, of Henagar. “It’s George Soros.”

    There is zero evidence that Soros has anything to do with Moore’s Senate race. A spokesperson for Soros’ philanthropic organization, Open Society Foundations, had only this to say when HuffPost asked whether he is, in fact, paying the women accusing Moore of sexual misconduct: “No.””

    This article originally appeared on HuffPost.


    Leave it to Steve Bannon, in the months to come anti-Semitism will be thicker than the walls surrounding Auschwitz.

    A few days ago, Bannon was playing Franken against Conyers, Jew against African-Amrican on Twitter. So much for the Democratic Party in 2016.

  10. If you honestly believe that the far right is the only ones using propaganda, you’ve succumbed to groupthink. LOL

    MSNBC is propaganda.

    Once again, abandon the traditional “right-left political spectrum”. Propaganda comes from the top.

    See: Edward Bernays early career work with “public relations”.

  11. I don’t disagree in principle that “(Granted, this is far more prevalent on the Right, but there’s plenty of evidence that the fringe Left does the same thing.)” but I do think even pointing out that there is a loon or two locked away outside the mainstream on the left almost encourages a false equivalency.

    I’m sure/I know there are some nutty left wingers out in the wild, but in my experience they’re confined to the fringes and people on the left know who the nuts are. The right seems to elevate their nuts to elected office. What is the liberal equivalent of the Freedom Caucus? Who is the Chuck Grassley, Todd Rokita, Mitch McConnell, Donald Trump, Mike Pence, etc., etc., of the left? I don’t think the left has any elected lunatics in a major office, do they? “Wildly liberal” (Republican terminology) Obama was barely liberal at all in terms of policy. He was a Bob Dole Republican essentially. Where are these “the left does it too” left people doing these crazy things?

  12. Dirk,

    Who said the left was doing crazy things? Being a COWARD is not necessarily being CRAZY. If someone was setting my house on fire with my family in it, and I didn’t do anything EFFECTIVELY to stop it,

    would you call me CRAZY or a COWARD? Trump’s opposition is COWARDLY, that’s the point I’ve been trying to make for the past 2 1/2 years on this blog.

    How else could we have gotten ourselves into this mess?

  13. We are born without bias but acquire biases from our social environment as we mature. Thus no one is now alive from the antebellum American South but racial prejudice is prevalent there (and, unfortunately, has been imported to the North as well). This could only happen when our predecessors teach their children to hate based on skin color.

    Again unfortunately, we have been taught to hate on other grounds as well, such as religion or the lack thereof, class, assumed moral superiority etc. The Trump administration (led by its hater-in-chief, Bannon) now tells us in gross Orwellian fashion that a pervert from Alabama should be elected to the Senate because he is morally superior to his opponent (remember Smith’s Department of Love in Orwell’s 1984?). News you don’t like is “fake news;” all of us are victims of a hazily described “establishment; up is down and two and two are five. Bannon’s Leninist vision of “deconstruction of the administrative state” is proceeding apace while gutless Republicans sit on their hands, concerned only with passing of their legislative agenda while shooting craps with the future of America and its people.

    Meanwhile, 70 years of carefully crafted and delicate foreign policy is going down the drain via a clueless and sloganeering president more anxious to savage past opponents than crafting a future for America. Sheila is right; the idea is to sow confusion from on high so that civil commotion will ensue which in turn gives the sowers the opportunity to ride in from the west on their white horse of law and order and establish an authoritarian state. Bannon has admitted that he is a “Leninist” who wants “to destroy the administrative state,” but he hasn’t told us what form of government to expect after our democracy goes down the drain. Perhaps his admitted love of Lenin gives us a clue, a Lenin who was good at putting Russians in the street in order to justify a coup and assassinating the members of the Romanov dynasty, including the Romanovs’ children. We live in dangerous times and must speak up before it’s too late.

  14. Unless you actually know people on the “fringe left” it’s kind of hard to believe that there are many of them…I, myself, don’t know any…..if you’re talking Bernice supporters I don’t know any…..most of the people I know are level headed lefty’s who love our country and can’t believe the cesspool that the White House has become. With the election of Trump….I hate saying his name….this country has sunk as low as it can go….I do believe we can climb out of the funk and clean ourselves off. I don’t think he’ll last 2 years…I may be wrong though….he might make 2 1/2 if Mueller takes him time. I think he’ll finally end up curled up in a fetal position in the janitors closet crying “Don’t make me leave” as they haul his nasty ass out!!!!! I Trust that the country will finally do the right thing and toss him out on his skanky behind!!!!

  15. Give the people the truth, and they will govern themselves wisely is a paraphrase of Lincoln’s advice. But that homily can no longer be trusted, because the people cannot recognize the needle of truth among the haystack of untruths.

  16. Marv,

    I would completely agree that Democrats are spineless – I think even Roy Rogers joked about not being part of organized politics because he was a Democrat. It wouldn’t be so bad if Republicans were ruthless. Together it’s a rough combination.

    Draft dodging wise, I don’t blame people for not wanting to go to a war. Clinton took a scholarship at Oxford (I think), Bush joined the National Guard and used family connections to stay state-side, Obama was too young for it, and Trump claimed injury. I think the Trump one is most dubious, but, of his various character flaws, I think avoiding the draft is somewhere on my concerns list about him on page 12.

  17. I do not believe in the magic of trust. I believe in the foolishness of trust and the magic of credibility, the condition worthy of trust; first, give me credibility, then I will give my watchful trust. In governance, I suppose, it is the media that informs us of the government factors that relate to credibility. So, when parts of the media itself are incredible, what then?

  18. In addition to dismantling the useful protections put in place by his predecessors, Trump is making a political career out of creating chaos through his proclamations, tweets and his interactions with the press. All he needs to do is make a few racist remarks using his middle school vocabulary, make those annoying hand gestures, describe something as a disaster and all the news outlets are off to the races.

    Similar to the boycott of businesses suggested by Manuel, maybe the networks could just stop covering Trump for a week – actually make him work for the coverage, instead of emerging to play with his hair in front of the cameras whil making some mindless declaration about something he doesn’t understand/.

  19. I was raised in a informed home, my granfolks were decently educated,and read, the news, and of course walter cronkite was alive.as well as decent journalism. I was raised in a era,vietnam was engaging, the spread of communism had a new vehicle,t.v. My grandfather was union man, and active against communism. they actully didnt have the same idealology. They did have socialism style ideals,but thats where is basically ended. He wasnt affraid to discuss the merits,and facts with others. But, when the news was reconizable to us,that even that our goverment was active to change minds about,unions,the war,on its own propaganda.I was fortunate to be able to sort out how and why,with a family who studied the same issues,as they arose,and taking part in family discussions,before i was a teen. reading and witnessing the riots in newark,n.j, in the 60s,Vietnam,the Kennedy’s being assonated,Mr King,decisively killed. anti war protests,and the groups such as the SLA,Black Panthers,Marin co court house,weather underground SDS,and whatever was on the front page,and behind page 8. (NYT!newark evening news,time,life,look,and a few news mags)im blessed I can decide in good faith a view that merits those who do good,and praise those who do work for,,,,others…….Morals,code of ethics,good posturing by grandfolks who I think did a good job at putting glasses on a mind to see over the crud. Mentoring has done well for me, and I pass that along to others. no propaganda, no unherad voice,no decisions made by interests intent on distroying what is,our Democracy,and why? Millions have died to make America what it is,and slime is what covers us now,in a world that cant differentiate between,good and bad… maybe some course in ethics,and some public shaming is in order. But never give up on America,and our,unique ideeals. mentor,protest,and write,and VOTE dammit..

  20. With respect to science extremists are cynical and scientists are skeptical. The difference? Evidence. Extremists reject it and science evaluates it.

    Unfortunately this skill in science now is table stakes in a democracy for voters so pervasive is fake news.

    The first step is to ask always if what you hear is even plausible. An easy question is, is it too good to be true? If so it most likely isn’t.

    Another key step is, is it supported by cited evidence that can be confirmed from other sources or do you know of such an independent source to proactively confirm it? Check it out.

    Be wary of opinions and grant credibility very judiciously and always consciously. We have been softened up by lifetimes immersed in advertising which is always one sided, the sellers perspective only.

    The ultimate question? Is it the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth as confirmed by solid evidence. Be a jury.

    Critical thinking is the coin of the realm now and we are behind the learning curve and what’s at stake couldn’t be greater.

  21. This is an excerpt from “Der Fuehrer” by Konrad Heiden (Kingsport Press, Inc., Kingsport, Tenn,1944) pp.1-4:

    “One day in the Summer of 1917, a student was reading in his room in Moscow. A stranger entered , laid a book on the table, and silently vanished. The cover of the book bore in Russian the words from the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew: ‘He is near, he is hard by the door.’

    The student sensed the masterful irony of a higher power in this strange happening. They had sent him a silent message. He opened the book, and the voice of the demon spoke to him.

    “It was a message concerning the Antichrist, who would come at the end of days. The Antichrist is no mythical being, no monkish medieval fantasy. It is a portrait of a type of man who comes to the fore when an EPOCH IS DYING. He is a man with white skin, in everyday clothes, dangerously contemporary, and a mighty demagogue. He will talk with the masses, and at his word the masses will rise up and turn a culture to ashes, a culture which has deserved no better, since it has borne the Antichrist in its own image and for its own destruction……”

    “And then the demon spreads his wings, conceals the sky, darkens the world:

    ‘By all these methods we shall so wear down the nations that they will be forced to offer us world domination. We shall stretch out our arms like pincers at all directions, and introduce an order of such violence that all peoples will bow to our domination.’

    Who is this ‘we’? Who is that brags so absurdly?”

    [By Hiden]”To the student it is not absurd. It sounds fantastic, but it not a mere tissue of lies. He turns back the pages and discovers that all this accursed wisdom, all these diabolical plans, were hatched by a group of OLD JEWS, who met together in a back room in Basel, Switzerland, in the year 1897. The demon aiming to devour the words is a JEWISH CLUB. It stands there in black and white, described at length, with place and date. Twenty years had passed before this knowledge found the right man. And thus the “The Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion,” since become so famous fell into the hands of the Nazi, Alfred Rosenberg.”

    This was the beginning for the destruction of approximately six million Jews.

    I wonder where all the ANTI-SEMITIC MACHINATIONS of Steve Bannon originated? I have a good idea.

  22. Dirk,

    I understand your position on “draft dodgers.” We don’t know all the reasons why someone does something. But when it comes to being President, I believe it should be on page one.

    It might well explain the actions of both Bill Clinton[Triangulation] and George Bush [Iraq] that have helped undermine our Republic.

  23. One of the most important things I have learned from participating on this blog is the serious miss perceptions and resulting miscalculations of the depth of the anti-Semitic and racial hatred in the U.S.

    It has been masterfully covered-up beginning with Jerry Falwell’s trip to Israel in the late 60’s.

    Now comes the TSUNAMI OF HATRED.

  24. We’re still DODGING!

    dodge (daj) vi.,vt. dodged, dodg’ing [<?] 1. to move quickly aside, or avoid by so moving 2. to use tricks or evasions, or evade by so doing—n. 1. a dodging 2. a trick used in evading or cheating–dodg' er n.

    ~Webster's New World Dictionary

  25. Sheila, the reference to tobacco is spot on. Please start using the NRA as a current symbol for their tactic. I like the FUD factor – Fear – Uncertainty – Doubt.

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