Trust: The Missing Ingredient in American Politics

“Government is a trust, and the officers of the government are trustees; and both the trust and the trustees are created for the benefit of the people.” Henry Clay

Trust Pic

After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States seized the opportunity to focus its foreign policy on the importation of democracy, which has been tremendously successful. The nations of the world now want democratic systems where their fundamental human rights are respected and valued. They also desire the types of democratic institutions in which they have an equal say in the affairs of their lives. Thanks to the United States many nations around the world now enjoy these very things.

Kudos to the United States for its success in championing the course of making the democratic system of government a global force to reckon with in this day and age. But unfortunately the end of one problem is the beginning of another; the United States is now faced with a huge problem which we will equally have to import to other countries. We had democracy first before we decided to share its dignifying benefits with the rest of the world. As such, we must also address the present problem facing our venerable democratic institutions in America before addressing it abroad. Subscribing to the approach is good for two reasons – one being that charity begins at home, and two, it will create a platform of moral credibility for the United States upon which we can stand to address this issue on the global front. What then is this problem? The answer is ‘the absence of trust.’

It should not be surprising that our trust in the government as Americans is really low. The Watergate scandal during President Richard Nixon’s administration was a violation of trust. After that, American’s confidence in their leaders and government officials waned. However, since then there have been other issues that have taken place that have only added fuel to an already ragging fire – the lies upon which the Vietnam war was built, the release of the “Pentagon Paper” by Daniel Ellsberg, manufactured intelligence to support Iraq war, and most recently Edward Snowden’s leak of National Security Agency (NSA) unconstitutional intelligence gathering.

Political leadership or any leadership for that matter is about building constant relationships with a diverse set of people, including those who are not in their political party. But for these relationships to be of substance, it must be built on trust, the glue that holds any relationship together. The recent NSA leaked documents has further damaged the trust American citizens have in their political leaders. The leaks by Edward Snowden revealed the degree to which the United States government has violated the 4th Amendment which is a fundamental constitutional right of all Americans:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Though we now have a constitutional lawyer and a former community organizer as our current president, the scale of human rights violations both home and abroad surpass that of his predecessor. As president of the United States, I guess one’s previously held values must be sacrificed at the altar of political realism.

While trust and confidence of the American people in political leadership is at a record low, it is far worse on the global scene. Just as U.S. citizens have been frustrated over NSA revelations, U.S. international truth with its allies’ has equally suffered a significant setback. NSA eavesdropping on its European allies has now placed the U.S. relationship with its allies on shaky grounds. Our refusal as citizens to support the Obama administration’s so called limited military strike in Syria over the alleged use of chemical weapons by President Bashar al-Assad on his own people was based on current reality with our government –lack of trust.

How can the U.S. regain trust with its people once again? In my opinion the first step towards regaining trust is for the U.S. to be humble enough to admit its mistakes and publicly apologize to its citizens and allies. The Obama administration started on this path, but the rhetoric of “No Apology” coming from the Right forced Obama to retract from the path because of political expediency. In our current political environment apologizing for the United States can be a political seppuku. However, if we are genuinely concerned about regaining our credibility and the trust that has been lost at home and abroad, humility on our part is paramount.


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