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The Crisis of Mistrust in American Institutions Was Entirely of Their Own Making
Their credibility problem is richly deserved.
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The Republican Party’s presidential candidates, says Jennifer Medina of the New York Times, are going out of their way to exacerbate a crisis of mistrust in America’s governing institutions. Their rhetoric is “sowing broad suspicion about the courts, the F.B.I., the military and schools.” As they strive to separate themselves from the pack in a primary dominated by Trump, “they routinely blast these targets in ways that might have been considered extraordinary, not to mention unthinkably bad politics, just a few years ago.” The experts are beside themselves over a campaign that “has reached new and conspiratorial levels.”
There “is little doubt about the political incentives” behind Republican presidential candidates’ attacks on civic society’s “core institutions,” Medina writes. As the public becomes increasingly unwilling to defer to the assumed rectitude of its establishmentarian priests, the GOP has capitalized on this trend by “exhibiting more doubt across a broad swath of public life.”
The article gets it backwards. GOP candidates aren’t contributing to plummeting levels of trust in American institutions. They’ve merely noticed it.
Particular attention is given to how Republicans talk about the justice system and their refusal to acknowledge its dispassionate and impartial nature. This is rich, considering that our two-tiered system of justice couldn’t be more obvious. What first comes to mind are the 91 separate felony charges in several different legal jurisdictions that Trump faces, as Democratic prosecutors flagrantly stretch and contort the law in a bid to put the former president behind bars; and the recent implosion of a federal plea agreement that would have immunized Hunter Biden against a variety of serious charges—to say nothing of the DOJ’s decision to name the very prosecutor who allowed the statute of limitations to elapse while investigating Hunter Biden over the course of four years to head a special-counsel investigation into his conduct, which violates the regulations requiring that the special counsel be appointed from outside the Justice Department.
But there’s another recent example highlighting this two-tiered system of justice, one that was described as a “human sacrifice” by political scientist Wilfred Reilly. It concerns Minneapolis police officer Tou Thao, one of four officers present during the May 2020 death of George Floyd. Liberal Gopher State jurist Peter Cahill just gave Thao a 57-month sentence for “aiding and abetting” a felony crime—the restraint that led to Floyd’s death. This is the stiffest sentence received by any cop involved with the Floyd death other than Derek Chauvin himself.
Yes, Chauvin’s knee-neck-hold restraint wasn’t exactly an example of ideal policing. But Thao’s situation couldn’t be more different. He never even touched Floyd, instead handling crowd control and directing traffic. The “abetting” charge leveled against Thao was due to the fact that he didn’t physically force Chauvin, his superior officer, to stop restraining Floyd, or let civilians into an active arrest scene to provide the arrestee with medical assistance. As noted, Thao’s sentence was longer than two of the three terms given to those cops who did restrain George Floyd—probably because Thao gave a passionate speech before the final verdict came down, refusing to admit to guilt, which he convincingly argued that he shouldn’t feel. For his failure to remediate himself in accordance with the Left’s ideological fervor, Thao was indeed a human sacrifice to the Church of Woke in honor of Saint Floyd.
Then there are the as many as 548 individuals arrested and charged with crimes following the 2021 Capitol riot — 1,033 total arrestees minus 485 final sentences so far — who still remain in jail, without trial, in what amounts to arguably the grossest infringement of habeas corpus in our nation’s history. They’re political prisoners, plain and simple. And the treatment they’ve endured is disgraceful. Thursday, photos leaked of the abuse one of these individuals was subjected to. Ryan Samsel, who’s been moved around to 17 different facilities during his 2.5 years in prison, spent five months, alone, in what amounts to a broom closet with a bucket for a toilet. The light was never turned off and he slept on a blue mat.
Contrast this treatment with that of the hundreds of black-clad Antifa scum picked up during the 2020–21 Black Lives Matter riots — which caused an estimated $2 billion in insured property damage — many of whom had their cases quickly tossed out of court by the DAs’ offices in Democratic-run cities, and who were able to draw from bail funds backed by Democratic politicians like Kamala Harris.
As Senator Tim Scott put it on Friday: “It’s bad for everyday Americans who ask the question, ‘Can I trust the DOJ?’ The answer is emphatically no.”
Let’s go through some more of our key institutions that have a richly deserved credibility problem, beginning with…
The Federal Government and Security State
Since the Dawn of Trump, many Americans have rightly come to believe that the federal government is staffed by self-interested career bureaucrats willing to sabotage a duly elected president’s agenda and administration in pursuit of that vague lodestar, The Public Good™.
It’s no secret that Trump was despised in Washington, where only 4% of residents voted for him, and where campaign donations from federal employees for the 2016 cycle skewed toward Democrats, in some agencies by a factor of 10-to-1.1 Many of these little-known unelected deputies and officers in the working ranks of government became obstructionists seeking to nullify the election by denying the prerogatives of the new administration.2 The security state obviously took it to another level. I’m no fan of Trump, but the campaign they waged against him — with the help of the media — was contemptible. As podcaster Darryl Cooper pointed out, for those who dismissed Trump’s talk of a “Deep State” as conspiratorial nonsense, there should be little doubt about its existence now “after seven years of full-spectrum political warfare against the MAGA insurgency.”
They framed Trump for collusion with Russia to spy on his campaign; when he won anyway, Comey’s FBI conducted an off-the-books investigation on its own despite having “no actual evidence”; when Trump caught on and fired Comey, they ensured the “investigation” continued under Mueller even though the primary FBI investigator, Peter Strzok, wrote that he didn’t want to be involved with Mueller’s team because “there’s no there there,” but agreed to do it anyway to help bring about impeachment; Mueller figured out there was no collusion a month into his investigation, but dragged it out another year and a half to keep GOP investigators from accessing FBI/DOJ officials, and to try baiting Trump into doing something they could call obstruction; the Democrats took back the House in 2018 and shut down investigations into the spying that took place on the Trump campaign; Mueller wrapped up his task and handed the ball to Congressional Democrats for phase two, impeachment; Alexander Vindman, a CIA spy planted in the White House, tried to leak the contents of a Presidential phone call to Adam Schiff, who told him to write it up as a “whistleblower” report for marketing reasons; during the phone call, Trump asked Zelensky to put his people in touch with the AG’s office to compare notes on what we now know is overwhelming evidence of the Biden family engaging in bribery, money laundering, and racketeering, and the Democrats impeached Trump for this; in 2020, the public health bureaucracy joined the fight against Trump, working with Democrats and the media to use covid to benefit Democrats in the election; the FBI coordinated with Big Tech to engage in unprecedented censorship to protect Biden; the 2020 election was “fortified” by “a well-funded cabal of powerful people, ranging across industries and ideologies, working together behind the scenes to influence perceptions, change rules and laws, steer media coverage and control the flow of information”; federal agents were planted as provocateurs to agitate for a riot on Jan 6; and now state and federal prosecutors are using selective, novel interpretations of the law to threaten Trump with prison while the DOJ covers up plain proof of straightforward Biden corruption.
And people wonder why trust in the federal government and security state has cratered since 2016.
The Mainstream Media
Before the 2016 election, most Americans trusted the mainstream media and the trend was positive, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer. But then came Trump. It was decided that he could not be safely covered; he had to be opposed. In the words of the New York Times’ Jim Rutenberg, it was incumbent upon newsrooms to dispense with objectivity, to “throw out the textbook American journalism has been using for the better part of a half-century” and leap vigorously into self-righteous advocacy.
Today, the mainstream media no longer exists to inform readers and viewers, but to confirm and validate what they already believe. It consists of little more than progressive propaganda organs. Polarization has become a condition of the industry’s business success and thus systemically embedded in its business model.
It’s therefore no surprise that the U.S. ranks last among 46 countries in trust in media, per a 2022 Reuters Institute report.3 The examples reinforcing why this is the case are so numerous that it’s hard to know where to begin.4 For the sake of brevity, I’ll highlight one lesser-known illustrative instance from a few months ago, when newsrooms insisted on referring to an illegal immigrant charged with slaughtering a family of five as a “Texas man”:
“Multiple people have been arrested in connection with the Texas man accused of fatally shooting five neighbors,” the Washington Post reported.
The shooter, a Mexican national named Francisco Oropeza, was deported at least four times between 2009 and 2016, according to U.S. immigration officials. But to the press, Oropeza was a “Texas man,” not a Mexican national in the United States illegally.
“The Texas man accused of killing 5 neighbors is in custody,” reads an NPR headline.
“Police say the Texas man suspected of killing five people, including a 9-year–old boy, has been arrested after a multi-day search,” reported CBS News.
Reuters capped it off with a self-refuting headline: “Texas man accused of killing five neighbors was deported four times.”
Journalists now operate according to two main backwards assumptions: the masses cannot be trusted to process the facts, and their collective ignorance is Extremely Dangerous to Our Democracy™. Small wonder that a majority of the public now believes the press is the enemy of the American people.
Science and Public Health
God knows the public health response to the pandemic, led by the scientific clerisy under one Tony Fauci, resulted in people losing trust in the public health sector and the “experts.” Shit show has rarely enjoyed so accurate a denotation.
A distinction must be drawn between science and The Science™.
Science itself is a process of careful observation, record keeping, logical and mathematical reasoning, experimentation, and submitting conclusions to the scrutiny of others. It requires that we agree upon objective truths, and that we believe in our own capacity to explore the unknown to uncover those truths.
The Science™, however, is an entirely different matter. It amounts to a call for silence, not investigation. Purveyors of the oft-repeated slogan “Follow the science!” don’t mean that we ought to acknowledge the reality of scientific findings, but rather that we accept their preferred solutions and look the other way when they ignore and twist science for their own ideological ends. The Science™ is never invoked to convince, but to bludgeon. It is, as conservative podcaster Ben Shapiro put it, “politics dressed in a white coat.”
Perhaps the best example of The Science™ took place in May 2020, when the death of George Floyd generated massive protests and riots around the country. These “racial justice” gatherings — in the midst of a pandemic — were unprecedented in size and scale. According to polling, somewhere between 15 and 26 million people in the United States attended a protest. And these protests were anything but socially distanced, with many declining to wear masks so that their shrill cries might be better heard and engaging in behaviors that the CDC, over the previous four months, had repeatedly said spread the virus.
Just like that, the covid narrative changed overnight. Previously, the enlightened position had been to exercise nothing less than extreme caution, with many people going much further, taking to social media to castigate others for insufficient social distancing or neglecting to wear masks or daring to believe they could maintain some semblance of a normal life. But suddenly, public health officials said social justice mattered more than social distancing; they went from shaming people for being in the streets, to shaming people for not being in the streets.
The same public health professionals who decreed that we had to shut ourselves in our homes like agoraphobic recluses, even if it meant a collapse in the economy, tens or hundreds of millions of people suffering from unemployment, the permanent shuttering of small businesses, sustained mental health damage, postponed cancer screenings, exacerbating the opioid epidemic, and the separation of people from their loved ones and communities, including barring them from visiting dying spouses and parents and children in the hospital or even attending an outdoor burial—these same officials happily endorsed the mass gatherings.5
Apparently, the virus would kill Republicans who opposed economy-crippling lockdowns, but would leave unharmed anyone chanting “ACAB!” and “Defund the police!”
The CDC was a disaster throughout the pandemic, repeatedly flip-flopping on critical advice for the public, such as when people should wear masks, who should be tested after a covid exposure, and how the virus spreads.6 The agency bowed to political imperatives, with its director, Rochelle Walensky, often abusing her authority to manipulate public opinion and promote her narrow reading of what constitutes The Public Good™. Walensky did her share of flip-flopping, too.
In May 2021, she told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that “There’s an extraordinary amount of evidence now that demonstrates the vaccines are working in the real world, in cohort studies, in care facilities, in — across all states, that these vaccines are working the way they worked in the clinical trials. Importantly, there’s also new data just even in the last two weeks that demonstrates these vaccines are working in — against the variants that we have circulating here in the United States, and also data has emerged that has demonstrated that if you are vaccinated, you are less likely, not likely, to asymptomatically shed the virus and give to it others.”
Less than three months later, the narrative of which Walensky was so sure then had been completely turned on its head. She also backtracked on mandates: “To clarify: There will be no nationwide mandate [of vaccines]. . . . There will be no federal mandate,” Walensky said in July 2021. I suppose her reversal wasn’t entirely her fault; she was just echoing Biden’s line: “No, I don’t think it should be mandatory. I wouldn’t demand it to be mandatory.”
And it wouldn’t be right if we didn’t mention Tony Fauci’s mendacity.
“I didn’t recommend locking anything down,” he said last year to Batya Ungar-Sargon on The Hill’s daily web series, Rising. But when lockdowns were more popular, and Trump’s reluctance to impose them was pilloried in the press, Fauci had said, “When it became clear that we had community spread in the country, with a few cases of community spread — this was way before there was a major explosion like we saw in the northeastern corridor driven by New York City metropolitan area — I recommended to the president that we shut the country down.”
Fauci famously flip-flopped on masks. “There’s no reason to be walking around with a mask,” he stated early on, advising a colleague in a private email not to wear one because they don’t work. He later told CNN’s Jim Sciutto that he wanted to make masks a “symbol” of the sort of thing one should do, and explained that he had originally urged against masks to save them for first responders.
Fauci himself admitted during the pandemic that he uses deception and misdirection deliberately as tools of public-health communication. “When polls said only about half of all Americans would take a vaccine, I was saying herd immunity would take 70 to 75 percent,” he told the New York Times. “Then, when newer surveys said 60 percent or more would take it, I thought, ‘I can nudge this up a bit,’ so I went to 80, 85.”
It also turns out that Fauci was indeed lying when he rebutted Senator Rand Paul’s assertion that the National Institutes of Health and the NIAID were funding controversial gain-of-function research in Wuhan. A letter released by NIH confirmed that in fact the NIH did, through a grant to EcoHealth Alliance, fund gain-of-function research on bat coronaviruses in China.
We cannot tolerate the abuse and manipulation of health expertise by hypochondriacal, megalomaniacal, and incompetent officials who pretend at scientific integrity and put politics before probity. These people undermined human rights and civil liberties while throwing public monies at Big Pharma to rush a shot to market by bypassing all standards of necessity, safety, and effectiveness. Until major reform happens, we should reject the automatic institutional legitimacy of the self-described scientific establishment.
Jennifer Medina’s New York Times article targets Ron DeSantis for particular opprobrium over his criticism of the U.S. military. “The military that I see is different from the military I served in,” DeSantis told Fox News. “When revered institutions like our own military are more concerned with matters not central to the mission — from global warming to gender ideology and pronouns — morale declines and recruiting suffers.” He’s blamed for contributing to the decline in Republican voters’ trust in the armed services.
But DeSantis is right. As an Army vet who was still in uniform not too long ago, I still keep up with the military. And there’s ample evidence that America’s recruitment crisis is driven by the social engineering taking place in the armed forces. As Thomas Spoehr said in a lecture at the Heritage Foundation last year, “Wokeness in the military is being imposed by elected and appointed leaders in the White House, Congress, and the Pentagon who have little understanding of the purpose, character, traditions, and requirements of the institution they are trying to change.”
Euphoric Recall readers know well that much of the woke bull we’re dealing with today is rooted in the idea that America is fatally flawed by systemic racism and white privilege. This attitude has seeped into the military thanks in large part to Joe Biden signing a 2021 executive order requiring all organizations in the armed forces to create Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) offices, to produce strategic DEI plans, and to create bureaucratic structures to report on progress towards DEI goals.
Service members are now forced to sit through indoctrination sessions, either by Pentagon mandate or because senior leaders are delegating their command responsibilities to private DEI instructors. A perfect example of this has been taking place at the Command and General Staff College, where Army Majors currently attending ILE (intermediate level education) are being taught that only whites can be racist. According to students going through the course right now, an individual who is white and male is not allowed to feel like someone is racist or sexist towards them because they’re in the majority. The course is also teaching that gender is a social construct while sex is a biological category given at birth.
These indoctrination programs are differentiating service members along racial and gender lines, undermining their ability to build cohesiveness and comradery based on common loyalties, training, and standards. When I was in the Army, I sat through many briefings used to combat racial and sex discrimination. But this traditional training and education is being supplanted by struggle sessions that promote discrimination by replacing the American principle of equality with the progressive ideal of equity—the Left’s euphemism for unequal treatment based on group identity.
Last year, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told the House Armed Services Committee, “We do not teach critical race theory, we don’t embrace critical race theory, and I think that’s a spurious conversation.” And yet, despite the denials by Austin and others at the Pentagon, there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary.
As Thomas Spoehr highlighted, many senior officers have started adding books like Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist to their reading lists. A senior officer in the U.S. Space Force, Lt. Col. Matthew Lohmeier, was recently removed from command for publicly criticizing the role of critical race theory in indoctrinating service members at his installation. And last summer multiple media outlets reported on training materials on the problems of “whiteness” obtained through FOIA requests from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, my alma mater. One training slide read: “In order to understand racial inequality and slavery, it is first necessary to address whiteness.” Congressmen have also obtained curricular materials from West Point showing lectures titled “Understanding Whiteness and White Rage” and classroom slides labeled “White Power at West Point.”7
Current and past service members are keenly aware that the military has been infected by progressive social engineering. An October 2022 poll conducted by the National Independent Panel on Military Service and Readiness found that 68% of veterans said they’d witnessed the politicization of the military, with 65% expressing concern over it. Another 68% of service members polled said this has influenced their willingness to encourage their children to serve in the military. That’s a big deal. Families in which at least one member is a veteran are the country’s most reliable recruitment drivers. In fact, nearly 80% of all recruits have at least one family member who has served. The politicization of the military is endangering these vital ties, acting as a disincentive for many young Americans in terms of enlistment.
Civilian reformers, amid a pursuit of highly ideological objectives, are increasingly privileging faddish progressive orthodoxies over the readiness of the armed forces. Until this changes, services members and the public alike are right to lose trust and confidence in the military.
Over the past decade or so, the institutions we once trusted, we now doubt and even disbelieve as a matter of new habit. The American people’s general confidence in our civic structures is at an all-time low, averaging 27%, down from just under 50% in 1979.8 This widespread disillusionment shows no signs of abating. The public seems to be aware of this. A majority of every measured demographic group places a higher priority on restoring trust rather than on policy goals.
In 1969, Daniel Patrick Moynihan told his boss-to-be, President-elect Richard Nixon: “In one form or another all of the major domestic problems facing you derive from the erosion of the authority of the institutions of American society. This is a mysterious process of which the most that can be said is that once it starts it tends not to stop.”
“Institutions get caught up in one of those negative feedback loops that are so common in a world of mistrust,” David Brooks writes. “They become ineffective and lose legitimacy. People who lose faith in them tend not to fund them. Talented people don’t go to work for them. They become more ineffective still.”
The evidence suggests that trust is an imprint left by experience, not a distorted perception. High national distrust is a sign that people have earned the right to be suspicious, that their reluctance to defer to expertise and authority is justified. Those in nominal positions of authority who would have us think of them as leaders, as well as members of the managerial class, are eager to blame this epistemic collapse on Trump and the GOP, but the truth is that they were the agents of their own reputational demise. It’s because of them, their activist tenor, and their desire to exert dominance through control over, and manipulation of, information, ideas, and narratives, that our institutions are decaying.
There’s reason for concern. When people in a society lose faith or trust in their institutions and in each other, the nation collapses. Events have made clear that the cancer of distrust has spread to every vital organ. The stench of national decline is in the air.
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In Trump’s first nine months, more than 79,000 full-time workers quit or retired—a 42% increase over that period in Obama’s Presidency.
According to a report from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Trump experienced seven times more leaks during the first 126 days of his administration than the previous two administrations.
There’s a huge partisan divide—70% of Democrats said they had a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media, while just 14% of Republicans and 27% of independents said they did.
Of course, the Russiagate period comes to mind. As Martin Gurri put it, this was journalism “as if conducted under the impulse of an obsessive-compulsive personality.” He estimates that around 3,000 articles were written on the subject between 2017-2019 alone, with “virtually every report” either implying or proclaiming culpability. “Every day in the news marked the beginning of the Trumpian End Times.” For a masterful, sprawling account of how the mainstream media colluded with the security state to discredit the Trump administration, peddling lie after lie after lie, see this piece by Jeff Gerth.
Ultracrepidarianism is the act of giving opinions on matters outside the scope of one’s knowledge. The public health community’s willingness to extend its area of supposed expertise to problems of alleged racial injustice is but one example. As we’ve seen, when you extend the reach of science into areas of pseudo-science, claiming the mantle of the objective and verifiable on behalf of subjective conjecture, the ramifications for society can be enormous. The Bleedover Effect is a much bigger problem. Whereas the Ultracrepidarian issue concerns the scientific community speaking outside its area of expertise, the Bleedover Effect occurs when outside political viewpoints bleed over into scientific institutions themselves. The result is entirely predictable: The actual reach of science is restricted, and ideology supplants scientific inquiry.
By the summer of 2021, 77% of people said their trust in the CDC had decreased since the start of the pandemic, according to a WebMD-Medscape poll.
There’s no racism at West Point. Cadets do not have the time nor the luxury to be prejudiced. In order to graduate, you must work intimately with people of every creed, religion, and skin color. As President Theodore Roosevelt said at the West Point centennial, “You are drawn from every walk of life by a method of choice made to insure, and which in the great majority of cases does insure, that heed shall be paid to nothing save the boy’s aptitude for the profession into which he seeks entrance. Here you come together as representatives of America in a higher and more peculiar sense than can possibly be true of any other institution in the land.”