In Politics, Trust is a One-Way Street

When someone asks you if you trust a certain politician, chances are, the answer could be complicated though the answer is toss-up. If they are your representative and belong to your party, then you do trust them. If they’re in your party, then you do. If they’re not in your party, then you don’t. 

Where it gets weird is when elected officials dare to cross party lines. But why is that? It is said that trust is a two-way street, but when it comes to the media or those we elect to govern us (remember, we elect them), our trust is at an all-time low. 

According to University of Miami:

“A 2019 poll by the Pew Research Center showed that Americans think the public’s trust has been declining not only in the federal government but in each other as well. Although 64 percent of those polled said that low trust in the government made solving the nation’s problems more difficult…”

Fomenting Distrust

Now think of this in light of what’s happening Thursday evening. The January 6th Committee is televising their findings in prime time. Most major television outlets will cover it live, save Fox News (Yes, I’m shocked, too.) .

Why? They are following the coordinated efforts between elected officials of one political party and certain sections of the media to engender distrust of the proceedings and label them an unimportant kangaroo court. They’ll be speaking from the same talking points. Now, it’s not like inflation or historically high gas prices aren’t a problem. Trust me, they are. These issues affect the vast majority of Americans, and Fox News covers those issues over several hours every day and night.

But you know what affects every single person in this country, rich or poor? Chaos and anarchy. . The insurrection on January 6th needed to be investigated. As citizens, we deserve to know if there was any coordination from the very top of the political food chain or their subordinates The insurrection was based on a lie. It was based on distrust of election outcomes and distrust in elected officials from the bottom up. And these lies led to, well, this…

Do The Right Thing

But you know what helps repair distrust? Doing the right thing. In a recent Center Street PAC poll from April of this year, 49% of Republicans and 85% of Democrats agreed that those who entered the United States Capitol on January 6th should be punished. Sixty-six percent of unaffiliated voters also agreed that those who entered should be punished. This is an obvious majority of Americans. An overwhelming majority, really. If we take the data back to December of 2021, a clear majority of Republicans, 54%, believed in punishment for those involved on January 6th. What changed between the two polls? One simple word: 

Trust. 

A Matter of Trust

Trust in the January 6th Committee plummeted amongst Republicans as Fox News, OANN and a host of other right-wing media started using words and phrases like “witch hunt” and “partisan.” Never mind that the January 6th Committee is a bi-partisan committee, with two Republicans, Congresswoman Liz Cheney and Congressman Adam Kinzinger. Republicans were initially offered more seats to take part, but they refused to join, in an effort sow mistrust in the committee.  Wait! To clarify, before refusing to participate, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy did offer 5 Republican Congressmen, none of whom voted to impeach Donald Trump and three of whom tried to block the certification of electors on Jan. 6: Jim Jordan, Troy Nehls, Jim Banks, Rodney Davis and Kelly Armstrong. 

How dare the Democrats not include Jim Jordan! 

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the two Republicans who were selected, Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, have been shunned by the party and its base and been deemed…wait for it…untrustworthy. Both have been censured by various GOP factions. Kinzinger has decided not to run for reelection, and Cheney – who has never been considered politically vulnerable before – has a primary challenger who has called her a “traitor.”  That’s simply for cooperating with a committee designed to investigate a hostile government takeover. Or as it’s better known, treason.

Dangerous Game

One of the most upsetting aspects of the GOP response to the Jan. 6 Committee and hearing is how more mainstream Republicans have played into it. We expect MAGA loons like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Jim Jordan to push chaos. It’s part of their shtick and distrust serves their political purposes. But when you hear the committee’s investigation bashed by someone like Sen. Marco Rubio, who has made a career speaking out against this kind of political violence, it’s more troublesome. People like Rubio lament the party’s direction behind closed doors, but go along with it in public. They believe they can ride out the storm, as long as they keep getting re-elected. 

What Marco Rubio and those guys don’t realize is they won’t be able to ride out this storm because they’re helping to erode distrust in the American institutions that have always carried weight. They still don’t understand how much damage is being done. They might not realize it until it’s too late. 

Restoring Trust

So, what can be done to restore trust?

Well, turning back to the University of Miami article, two professors come to these conclusions:

Karin Wilkins: “We can improve trust by not only advocating for media industries and political agencies to improve their credibility, but also through citizen education. Distrust may be warranted, depending on the nature of the person or agency creating content. But distrust can be turned into healthy skepticism, which can strengthen citizen engagement. The key to building healthy skepticism is education in critical communication literacies. When citizens know what questions to ask, they can determine which actors are worthy of trust. And as that kind of critique becomes more prevalent, political and media institutions will need to respond to survive.”

Gregory Koger: “Politicians can change ways they communicate to express higher levels of trust in their own parties and to accept the legitimacy of the opposing party as representing a large segment of American population. They can also try to find common ground to answer to problems.” 

It’s something that seems like a lot to ask in times like these, but the less undermining we have of each other and each party, the more things could turn around. We need a return of a healthy skepticism.

We also need to elect/re-elect candidates willing to do the right thing. “Country over party” might seem cliché, but unfortunately, it’s only the phrase that’s overused, not the action. We can’t afford more extremists and fame-grabbers. To restore trust, we need trustworthy people in Congress (relatively speaking, anyway. These are politicians we’re talking about!). We need people who will make the right choices for the country, even if it means risking their political futures.