Trust in Nothing

Trust in Nothing
AP Photo/Evan Vucci

So, for several hundred years now, the government of the republic has survived various calamities based on trust. The people might have mistrusted the government, but they could usually trust that the system would sort things out in the end. The three co-equal branches of American government would check-and-balance each other and the outcome would be… well, at least acceptable.

But we seem to have reached an unprecedented place in our history, and I think it’s worth looking at where we are, even if we can’t say exactly what happens next. I’m going to talk about each of the three branches (here in 2020) and point out some trends. I have a prediction about what this means, but you’re free to draw your own conclusions.

First, let’s look briefly at congress. The institution itself is widely held in contempt. On a list of least trusted institutions, the U.S. congress is always in one of the top spots. The open self-dealing, political horse-trading, pork-barrel projects and the rest means that the citizenry trusts congress less than they trust serial killers. And that’s only mild hyperbole.

Second, let’s examine the Presidency. In the history of the United States, the presidency has been disputed in various ways. Andrew Jackson was denied the presidency in 1824, and believed that a “corrupt bargain” had been struck to deny him the office. JFK was likely elected by fraud in Texas and Illinois. In the Bush/Gore fight, the election came down to a Supreme Court decision regarding recounts.

In 2016, Trump won an electoral college victory, but those who opposed him pointed out that he didn’t win the popular vote. Hillary Clinton claimed for four years that she lost due to “cheating” and the Democrats spent Trump’s entire administration lying about Russian interference in the 2016 election. So the legitimacy of the Republican President was denied by Democrats for his whole first term.

In 2020, Biden “won” the electoral college. But irregularities abounded. Statically impossible margins, unconstitutional court-ordered changes to the election process, commingling of legal and illegal ballots, suspicious activity around vote tabulating computers… If Biden’s election stands, expect the legitimacy of the Democrat President to be denied by Republicans for his whole first term.

What does this mean in terms of trust? It means that essentially half of the country does not trust that the President was elected fairly. That the “not my President” issue is going to continue unabated–though the sides will have changed. In short, the citizenry cannot trust that the President was fairly elected or that he is legitimate.

Finally, let’s discuss the Supreme Court. In the Bush/Gore matter, the court acted to prevent Florida jurisdictions from counting votes differently. Some election officials were counting so-called hanging chads, while others weren’t. The Supreme Court intervened to stop this because it meant that voters were being treated differently based on where they lived. After the decision, the Supreme Court was (mildly) vilified by the left for “interfering” in the election. But since most people still respected the court, their decision largely passed unchallenged.

But here we are in 2020. On several recent cases, the majority on the Supreme Court has tied itself into knots to get the “preferred” outcome. John Roberts famously ruled that the Obamacare penalty was a “tax”–even though it was clearly not–because he didn’t want to be the justice who was hated for overturning Obamacare. Trust in the court was eroded.

Earlier this year, the court ruled that the constitution was overridden by the “health emergency” of the panicdemic. The more recent decision regarding NY’s singling out religious services wasn’t a “win” either. The court merely ruled that religious organizations couldn’t be treated differently than other organizations. Regarding the unconstitutional restrictions, they were silent except for Gorsuch–who essentially claimed that the constitution could be set aside in a health emergency for up to a year, but not longer. With “wins” like those, the republic doesn’t need enemies. And trust in the court fell further.

Regarding the 2020 presidential election, the court again decided not to “interfere”–when Pennsylvania extra-constitutionally changed its voting rules and the Pennsylvania supreme court unilaterally changed the absentee ballot deadline. Every time Roberts has punted, further damage to trust in and respect for the Supreme Court has resulted. I would say that at this point, it is as low as I ever remember it being.

So, in December of 2020, the citizenry does not trust the legislative branch, nor the executive branch, nor the judicial branch. This will, I believe, eventually lead to the breakdown of civil society. When the people cannot trust any branch of the the government, what recourse do they have? When the government can come after you and judges decide that they should be judge, jury, and executioner–as in the Flynn case–how will citizens react when they are accused?

I don’t know what’s going to happen next. But based on the fact that we can have zero respect for and trust in the institutions that are supposed to keep our society from going off the rails, I can say that it won’t be good.

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