Drowning in Bathtubs: (Dis)Trusting Public Officials

Before we start, recall that Grover Norquist (best friends with guys like felon Jack Abramoff and moral majority manipulator Ralph Reed, reprehensible thugs of the Machiavellian political underclass), chieftain of corrupt practices masquerading as “tax policy” positions and anti-tax pledges is a man of considerable influence in government and has been for decades.  (Who are these awful people?  They seem sprung from succubi or perhaps they are simply incubi themselves…surely they are not human.)  He strives to reduce government so much that he can “drown it in the bathtub.”  That figuration tells us all we need to know about the soul of Norquist.

Now, with that not inconsequential fact in mind confront, as I did this morning, this headline for an opinion piece in the local newspaper: Washington should be concerned about distrust in government.  This column is penned by the august and venerable career politician, Lee Hamilton, who is director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University and was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

I’ll offer some of this piece and a gloss upon it below.

So many Americans feel betrayed by how the political class operates. What can be done to restore the people’s trust in government?

Already we’re in trouble–look at all that assumption!  Betrayal assumes a previous loyalty; political class however assumes another kind of loyalty–to class.  And apparently the “political class” is government; and Americans once trusted it.

All of that is so hard to square.  We are taught to pledge to government our allegiance and in doing so we assume a role that many of us might not quite understand: subservience.  Does a servant class expect to be looked after fairly?  Probably, but only because they’re told that how their treated is the best and right way to be treated.  What can be better than our democracy?  It’s fair because your vote co-opts your assent.  (So don’t vote in order to say something dissident?)

The latest New York Times/CBS News poll noted support for Congress is down to single digits. Americans’ distrust of government, the pollsters found, is “at its highest level ever.”

You know what’s high in the polls?  American popular agreement that the Iraq “war” was not worth the cost: 67% polled.  Further 77% polled approve of removing all troops by the end of 2011.

So the question becomes, what can be done to restore the people’s trust in government? It involves more than changing policies. It means paying attention to the values that people would like to see embodied in government.

First, it has been modus operandi at least since Reagan for Republicans to make very clear to Americans that government is THE PROBLEM. The political classes have promoted and encouraged this response to Congress. It is a method of reducing popular involvement in self-government. If no one can be trusted, if government is the problem, then what is to be done? Nothing…voting for someone who is or will become part of the problem creates an ennui towards the process itself. It has been the driving force of our Managers to make us believe we cannot be served by the Managers. And yet, what can we do other than elect more managers?

Further, this exacerbates the role of MONEY external to public funds. Capitalism becomes the savior of our public souls…the Market, free from cant and ideology, if dirty government would just leave it alone, will set all ships aright and we will float on in blissful paradise on a sea of gold and green.  Of course, looking around you see the fallacy of this “belief.” It’s the biggest scam that’s been played on the Americans–and it’s been intentional.

And the ideals of a capital economy do NOT coincide with the statements of belief on offer by Hamilton–rather, they do for most of us, but not the ones who make the rules…however, the only “trickle down” effect Reagan’s Rule ever had was that we believe in making ourselves rich above everything else.

To start, they want fairness from Washington. Whatever you think of the Tea Party or Occupy Wall Street, both have touched a nerve, a sense that our political leaders have not just grown distant from the concerns of ordinary Americans, but actively discriminate against them in one way or another. Americans place importance on fairness; they strive to be fair to those around them, and they expect government to do the same.

Americans place importance on fairness. That sounds right, we want that to be right and true and to characterize “us,” but it’s not. Again, look around: what’s fair about poverty, health care bankruptcy, unemployment, etc.? Elections are bought, fair? Judges rule for “property” over people. Fair? We have a massive prison population filled with African Americans due to hypocritical vice laws, fair?

They also want government to be open. This is not a blanket pronouncement — where national security and defense are concerned, or where congressional negotiators need space to find common ground without being forced to posture for the cameras, there is a place for secrecy. But transparency ought to be the rule. Secrecy feeds suspicion and distrust of government.

Openness in Government: we agree but disagree according to Hamilton. Rather, he says we must allow exceptions. Guess who makes the exceptions?  The people we don’t trust.  Guess who spies on us? Guess who facilitates spying on us?  Government and Telecom Corporations. You and I, citizens who should be protected, are exposed; in effect our lives, our dreams, our desires ARE OPEN to government and corporations, open to plunder. There is no National Security measure that needs to be secret; what we keep secret is how horrible we are to our underclasses and the rest of the world’s people whom we consider beneath us and potential resources as labor. WE murder and occupy at will. That is what is kept secret. The CIA is waging war every day.  That is a secret.

Speaking to audiences around the country, I’ve also been struck by the deep thirst for accountability in Washington. It is very hard to determine who’s responsible for any given situation in the federal government — so many people have their hands on promoting or blocking a given initiative, it can seem that the entire political system is designed to shrug off responsibility.

When the economy is floundering, Americans are desperate for work, and Washington seems incapable of coming to grips with the nation’s needs, this is a huge problem. It is hard to respect institutions whose leaders refuse a forthright accounting of, or deny responsibility for, their failures.

Hamilton has no answer to this, of course, because it is absolutely true.  We operate within a system that mitigate responsibility by spreading around the malfeasance and acting as if we can’t indict one because it would topple ALL…Too Big To Fail is failure for most of us.  But worse, even our courts have been co-opted into this.  What do you expect when SOTUS offers us Scalia as its leading intelligence?  When we have former Republican political hacks Alito and Roberts on the court?  Who would respect or trust this travesty of even the idea of justice and equality?

Americans do not expect miracles or understate the difficulties of governing. They do not expect a single person to right the ship of state. Quite the contrary. They want a collective effort, a sense that people in government, regardless of party, are rolling up their sleeves and working together to resolve their differences.

This seems to be born out in one particular poll response–at least as regards political perception of a house united rather than divided–where 72% of respondents thought the representatives should sit together (among each other) while listening to the State of the Union Address.  However, I thought Americans did believe in miracles (and demons!); and I thought most of us believed the president can make a real difference (why else vote?)

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Americans have some tolerance for disagreement, but not to the point of gridlock — in the end, they prefer cooperation, not confrontation. And they abhor the sort of brinksmanship that has become a Washington specialty, with its last-minute negotiations and short-term fixes. We have serious long-term problems, and Americans want to see their elected officials working on them. They want remedies, not filibusters and politicking.

With our manufactured “party system” we ensure that there is no consensus, that there is only “brinkmanship.”  Though if you look at polls there is massive popular consensus on things like reducing military spending and getting out of foreign lands. So yes, Americans are not divided on what matters–only on the fake divisions constantly produced by media corporations and election cycles. Why don’t our representatives represent us?

Finally, they want honesty. Americans want to know the scope of the problems they confront and to make up their own minds about them. They resent politicians who paper over the difficulties of the problems or toss off inadequate solutions to really tough problems. There is a thirst for basic facts, not spin.

Public service is for “suckers” unless they turn a buck at it. That’s the American way of government and financial systems. Serve the self. That’s Capitalism…The biggest Self calls the tune. It ain’t you and it ain’t me but it’s the song that’s played.  We are the United States of Spin, aren’t we?  Our entire economic system is based on obsolescence of product and lying about what products will achieve.  Our entire world is made out of lies that promote wasteful consumption.

Rebuilding trust in American government will require more than changes in rules or policy. It will rest on the manner in which our elected officials conduct the business of government, and their willingness to embrace fairness, openness, accountability, cooperation, competence and honesty.

There is no way this can happen unless fraud is prosecuted and politicians and corporate leaders go to jail.  This same goes for our murdering military and the administrations that send them to the killing fields.

Lack of trust in government is a far more serious problem than most politicians believe. The solution can only come from a patient, long-term effort to return to our fundamental values and instincts.

As noted, it is not a problem, it’s the goal.  If there is a solution it will have nothing to do with our current “political classes” who have abused their positions of trust from the creation of the offices they hold.

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