Earlier this week, I asked: What is the long-term price of tolerating corruption? The answer was a political environment like Brazil’s, in which the only trust left is in the army and the church, with none in government. Every move by those in power to undermine trust in our institutions, such as Trump’s appointment of the rankly partisan Matthew Whittaker to the Dept. of Justice, is worthy of our sustained collective attention and scorn. Without trust, the engines of democracy will stall. Without trust, we’re on our way to being Brazil or Venezuela.
That’s the viewpoint of two Republican-appointed former intelligence chiefs, Michael Hayden & James Clapper. In this review of their two recent on the subject, they argue that the decline of trust in American institutions is leading to a crisis of legitimacy:
“Ultimately, they fear that the consensus that holds the nation together–objective truth–is breaking down. That, they say, has been the precursor to government collapse, civil war and dictatorship in other countries, and they worry the same thing can happen here.
Back when I was at PBS, we often bragged that we were the most trusted public institution after the military. Whenever I fact-checked that talking point for a speech or press release, I always remember being shocked at how low trust in Congress was, even after it was freshly elected in opposition to a sitting President’s administration. Hayden & Clapper argue that the plummeting trust in the CIA and NSA isn’t due to a change in opinion about those agencies themselves, but about the ability of Congress to hold them accountable.
That’s why I agree with this editorial in The Times, which argues that Pelosi and the Democrats need to avoid the distracting scandals of The White House, designed to keep attention swirling around the President and to throw into doubt any statement about objective reality. As tempting as it may be for Democrats to engage in a spiteful volley of subpoenas, they can’t go overboard. Hold the executive brand accountable, yes. But the focus should be on sustaining their own message and achieving their own worthy aims.
If Congress governs with sanity and integrity, we might just find a new way forward.
What do you think?