Trust and Trump's America
The Personal Weblog of Edward W. Farrell   
Trust and Trump's America Wednesday, January 25, 2017
I just read Michael Idov's recent piece on Russia in New York Magazine (Lessons from Putin's Russia for Living in Trump's America).

Idov paints a sobering picture of a world where no public institution or service can be trusted to fulfill its avowed aim, because all are run by parasites whose only interest is how best to use their office to exploit and plunder their fellow citizens. In this institutional world nothing is as it appears and everything is a scam. The rules of this scam are well known to all but nowhere spoken. In short, it's gangsterism (insofar as the plundering activity is organized), and has run riot in Russia. It's a threat to societies everywhere. The USA has known its share of it; it ebbs with concerted opposition and flows with complacency. Where there is no concerted opposition it becomes endemic. Such endemic corruption is a common feature of the Third World, and Russia has evidently succumbed to it as well.

What lesson does this have for us who are living in Trump's America? This question is only posed tangentally in Idov's otherwise straightforward journalistic piece--a good example of how the culture war against Trumpism suddenly appears in various diverse byways. In this case, the chronic cynicism and lack of trust in Putin's Russia is suggested as a place the USA is likely to end up now that Trump is in power. What evidence suggests this? Idov doesn't say; in fact, he does not really even 'suggest' it in any direct way, since the article doesn't mention Trump except allusively. And this suggests to me that for the author's intended audience, the equivalency of Trump and Putin is assumed and doesn't need explaining. Since Trump's authoritarian-style bombast is beyond distasteful to this crowd, he is commonly lumped with the similarly 'beyond distasteful' Putin, especially since Trump has said approving things of Putin. Trump is widely compared to Hitler and Mussolini too. What can we make of this? Nothing, really. This sort of end-game condemnation, when it appears before the race has run, makes any sort of close analysis a fool's errand.

Will Trump's policies lead to institutional corruption of the sort suffered by Russia? His past business orientation and lack of government experience are often cited as evidence of a private profit motive and dearth of public spirit. Will this bear out? Who can say? He's only been in office for four days.  He is a fan of privatization which has often been prone to cronyism and corruption. But all bureaucracies, whether public or private, are notorious for feather-nesting and spending more effort on their entrenchment than on their mission. There is no end of speculation that Trump's unsavory character will determine policies and decisions that will be disasters for the US in various ways. But these 'disasters' may simply be the effects of elections in a pluralistic society, in which certain interests of a winning faction are not reconcilable with those of the losers, as is the case with issues such as abortion, traditional marriage, or even environmentalism.

What is not speculation is that it was a general and widespread failure of trust that allowed Trump to win the office of president. This loss of trust was not due to the rampant corruption that bedevils Russia.  Rather, it was due to a growing segment of the populace that no longer believed the political establishment was acting in their best interests.  It's not entirely clear yet of whom this 'growing segment' consists. Most frequently cited are blue-collar workers who have lost jobs to automation and much cheaper off-shore labor. But exit polls show a far more complex picture, though the overriding message of these polls was dissatisfaction with the status quo. Trump carried the field on the basis of providing needed change, in spite of a widespread dislike of his personality and character.

What are the issues that resulted in this loss of trust among a population large enough to elect an outsider like Trump? Why were the establishment parties, Republican and Democrat, so unaware of the magnitude of these issues that no one foresaw Trump's election? These are the important questions that are still not being asked by those recently deprived of power. That they were not asked before the election, much less answered, exacerbated the loss of trust. The political establishment is not likely to recover from this loss, since it does not now have the opportunity to ask what policies need to be corrected so that trust can be restored. That opportunity has been given to Trump. Upset elections such as 2016 are actually a relatively healthy means of resolving a political loss of trust; what is far less healthy is the political climate that allows them to happen. As R. R. Reno observes in a recent analysis, "For all the talk of "inclusion," "diversity," and "identity," our society cannot do what any shared culture must do, which is to promote Gemeinschaft, the shared sense of belonging that allows us to feel at home in the world. The cultural politics of the last fifty years, largely driven by progressives, has failed."

Trump's administration has come to power in a highly combative election and is not likely to restore a "shared sense of belonging" given the even greater divisiveness his election has unleashed. Nevertheless, in the end I doubt Trump's America will look anything like Putin's Russia, though they are both plagued by serious issues of trust. How these issues will be addressed in the future is anyone's guess at this point.


Related Links
Lessons from Putin's Russia for Living in Trump's America
Behind Trump's Victory: Divisions By Race, Gender, Education
The Loss of Peace
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