The failure of trust

Published 8:36 pm Saturday, November 30, 2013

So you don’t trust the government. Join the club.

According to a recent Associated Press-GfK survey, reported this week by the Associated Press, most of your friends don’t, either. And neither do most of your enemies, for that matter.

Asked how much of the time they trust the federal government to do what is right, only 2 percent of Americans said they trust the government to do what is right “just about always.” A whopping 81 percent said government could be trusted to do the right thing “only some of the time.” Presumably, there’s even a contingent of folks who never trust the government in any circumstances. I imagine they live in caves or abandoned missile silos, completely off the grid.

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The results of the survey are probably no surprise to anyone who keeps up with the news of our hyper-partisan political climate. With Democrats and Republicans regularly at one another’s throats in Washington, D.C., nobody on either side of the aisle winds up very happy with the results of American political discourse lately.

Of course, it’s not just the federal government that Americans view with wariness. In the wake of a gifts scandal that destroyed the reputation of Gov. Bob McDonnell and contributed to the election loss by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in November, Virginians are experiencing the same feelings about their state government. And I had a conversation with a shopkeeper on Friday that reminded me that even here in Suffolk, folks don’t necessarily believe their political leaders are trustworthy.

There’s evidence from the same AP-GfK survey the distrust has festered and erupted into a general level of angst among the general population. Between 1972 and 2012, the percentage of Americans who agreed with the statement, “Most people can be trusted” fell from 46 percent to 32 percent. The proportion who said, “You can’t be too careful” rose from 50 percent to 64 percent during the same period.

From dealing with strangers to worrying about other drivers to being cautious with credit cards, more and more Americans, it seems, are taking a suspicious approach in their interactions with each other.

Even in this season of peace and goodwill toward men (and isn’t it telling that we’ve relegated such concepts to a certain season each year?), it’s clear that Americans have trouble seeing the good in each other. And who can blame them, really, when the news the day after Thanksgiving includes video of near-riots on Black Friday and stories of a Virginia man stabbed in a fight over a prime parking space?

Despite the fact that Americans have more and quicker ways to connect with one another than ever through social networking, email, video calls and the like, we seem to be building more walls between ourselves than ever before. And behind those walls, we nurture the seeds of our own destruction — distrust, bigotry and stereotypes.

This is the season of peace and goodwill, demonstrated by a God who sent His Son to minister to and die for a world that He already knew could not be trusted to accept Him in love or to follow Him faithfully. It was truly the supreme sacrifice, but the love represented in that life, lived in the sure knowledge of the final betrayal, is a model for how we can overcome our distrust for one another.

To be sure, we should be careful in dealing with one another. The solution to distrust, though, is not to build walls, but to step out in love, even in the sure knowledge there are some who will betray that love. That’s the route to peace and goodwill.