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.