A Decade of Distrust

Do Americans distrust their powerful institutions more than ever?  And what impact does this distrust have on our lives?

This sentiment was a powerful underlying theme to our Independent America film — that we have lost faith in government and corporations after Enron, Iraq, Katrina.  And it has to be a central component of my book: putting aside once trustworthy brand name media institutions, we can now rely on ourselves to communicate important, relevant information.  But without those brand names, how do we ascribe credibility?

With this in mind, I was especially struck by this weekend’s Op-Ed in the New York Times Tiger Woods, Person of the Year.  In it Frank Rich vociferously disagrees with Time Magazine’s choice of Ben Bernanke as “Person of the Year.”

[T]he obvious person of the year is Tiger Woods. His sham beatific image, questioned by almost no one until it collapsed, is nothing if not the farcical reductio ad absurdum of the decade’s flimflams, from the cancerous (the subprime mortgage) to the inane (balloon boy).

Rich concludes that Americans should be suspicious of any leader trying to sell them “a message” — Barack Obama increasingly so.

Inevitably, I find the comments to this article as illuminating as the article itself.  Some of my favorite ideas leap out: accountability, transparency, Orwell’s cautionary admonitions on the misuse of language by the powerful.  I will argue in my book that a new conception of storytelling — essentially an ongoing two-way conversation that fosters relationship within a particular community — might present a refreshing dose of clarity to all of us who have been so “easily bamboozled” by the power brokers’ Kool-Aid.

But it also leads to more questions.

What does this say about social trust in America, and why hasn’t it improved over the last decade with the advent of online communities and our ability to fact-check via the wisdom of the crowd?  Barack Obama’s Presidential campaign is seen as a watershed for social media — how someone with no money and little executive experience managed to inspire a country with his story and “message” and motivate them through an online campaign to send him all the way to the White House.  If we’re to believe Frank Rich and many of those who commented, were we bamboozled yet again, but this time through a medium that was meant to prevent such con-jobs?