Semantic Antics

From The Ruston Daily Leader, September 23, 2010

Disclaimer:  I want to make it clear that I am about to address a topic—political trust—with which books upon books have been written.  I do not presume to know more than the authors of these books.  Rather, read this as the beginnings of an interesting question to which you may have your own opinions and observations.

In light of today being the last day of our Constitution week as well as the upcoming election for Louisiana Lt. Gov., which will be held on October 2, I would like to peer into and pull back some of the layers surrounding how we truth, and thereby choose, our leaders.

It is in the political rhetoric today that a leader must be or, at least be under, the guidance of a shrewdly talented marketer.  (S)he must be presentable but not too stuffy, witty but not too fluffy, educated but not too pretentious, knowledgeable but not too tendentious.  Under the watchful eye of our media, potential leaders of our country must now sell themselves to us more thoroughly and personally than ever before.  These politicians live much of their lives orchestrating a story they can market to a country of people who so desperately want someone to put their trust in.

But the figures show that we are not as trusting of our political leaders as we have been in the past.  The most recent Gallup poll shows that Americans’ trust in the Legislative branch is at an all-time low.  However, it also shows that though our trust in politicians has plummeted, our trust in “the American people as a whole when it comes to making judgments under our democratic system” has been at a consistently high level at 73 percent.

In a PEW research done in 1998 on Americans’ view of the government, 40 percent of those with distrust in government complained about the political leadership—believing that politicians are dishonest, selfish and too partisan.

The Harvard Kennedy School for Public Leadership published some research in 2009 showing that Americans are among the world’s most optimistic people when it comes to our belief in the potential of our government.  We still hold the words of our founding fathers close to heart—that “the power under the Constitution will always be in the people.  It is entrusted for certain defined purposes, and for a certain limited period, to representatives of their own choosing; and whenever it is executed contrary to their interest, or not agreeable to their wishes, their servants can, and undoubtedly will, be recalled” (George Washington, Ibid., 29:311).

This is all seemingly positive, right?  If 87 percent of Americans polled believe that problems we face today can be solved by effective leadership, then it seems that we, as a nation, are more trusting in our own country than the rest of the world.  However, it is only in our potential that we remain so strongly optimistic.  To believe in the potential of an institution or person is to believe in the perceived strengths or capabilities that make up that individual, organization, investment, etc.  But this believe in the potential is only the beginning of the solution.

This leads to some questions about the qualities of trust and the trusted.  Do we trust the qualities that we identify with most or the qualities with which we find admirable?  Do we trust people who seem to share our values, intellect, and background?  Is it the influx of disparaging and vituperative media in our lives that makes us distrustful of our politicians?  Is it the conditions of our environment that make us prone to trust?  Do we simply tend to trust in our government when comfortable in the happy, warm cocoon of a flourishing economy?  And most importantly, how do we come to terms with trusting an individual so desirous of power as to put himself through the dehumanizing process that is American Politics?

In honor of our Constitution week, let’s consult that great work and see some of the rights to which we, as citizens, are entitled.  The Constitution is appropriately called the Living Constitution.  As any great piece of writing, it is timeless and remains alive within the people of this country and those who choose to participate in the political process.  When we perceive these rights being put into action in our political process, there is a perception of greater trust in our government.

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