Environmental Ethics
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Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

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The Gadfly Bytes -- October, 2001


By Ernest Partridge
University of California, Riverside
www.igc.org/gadfly // gadfly@igc.org

Published in The Online Journal, October, 2001

Revised and Expanded as "The Erosion of Trust" (2006)

Trust is the moral cement that binds a just political order.

Like a person in good physical health, a society of trusting citizens takes its good fortune for granted as each citizen goes about his personal business. Then the bond of civic trust fades below our collective consciousness, even as we continue to enjoy the benefits thereof.

We pay our bills and send personal messages through the mail, trusting the Postal Service to deliver the mail on time and not to open and read it en route. We purchase our food and drugs confident that the food will not be contaminated and that our drugs will be both safe and effective. When we go shopping, we often do not bother to check the change returned to us at the register, and we routinely write checks against bank deposits without scrupulously checking our balance. In short, we generally trust each other. (See also our "On Civic Friendship")

Despite two decades of relentless assault upon "big government" by the (so -called) "conservatives," we continue to trust our government. We express our personal and political opinions in our homes and over the telephone and e-mail, without fear that the government has planted a device to eavesdrop on our conversations. The supreme law of our political order contains a Bill of Rights which guarantees our freedom of speech, of worship, of assembly and the privacy of our persons and our homes. Unless this benign regime of law and order is violated, it seems so ordinary, so "natural." that we take little notice. And when our personal lives are disrupted by an "insolence of office," we are generally assured that the courts will provide a remedy.

I have experienced an alternative political order, albeit briefly. Of my eight visits to Russia, the first three were during the final days of the Soviet Union. During the summers of 1990 and 1991, I stayed with a friend in his Moscow apartment. On one occasion, as we were having a free-wheeling political conversation, he abruptly stopped me, put a finger to his mouth and then pointed toward the ceiling, in the general direction of an undetected yet plausible microphone. Thereafter, we carried on our conversations outdoors. The brief stroll between the Metro station and his apartment ran alongside the local post office, the upper floors of which were lit "24/7." Why? I was told that the postal workers, under the direction of the KGB, were reading personal mail en route to delivery. (To this day, my Russian friends advise me not to expect my postal and e-mail to be delivered to them unread). And on my trip to the Sheremetyevo Airport to board my flight back to the States, my driver was pulled over by The Militziya (traffic cop). He did not write out a citation.  Instead, at the driver's instruction, I handed the officer a $20 bill, whereupon he waved us on. My feeling of liberation upon returning home to California was palpable.

So I join my compatriots today in the celebration of America I share their pride in our freedom, in our unity in the face of our national grief, and in our determination to prevail in the coming struggle. "God Bless America!"

But forgive me, please, if I perceive a shadow over this celebration.

Yes, we thrive in an atmosphere of mutual trust. But some of the foundation of that civic trust has recently been seriously eroded, and unless we repair and restore it, that trust may be lost forever.

Within the memory of all of us, we trusted the ballot box and were thus assured that our political leaders enjoyed the legitimacy of "the consent of the governed." 

We enjoyed some expectation that those who we elected to our Congress and our legislatures represented those who voted for them, and not those who financed their elections.

Our trust in our elected representatives has been honorably reinforced by our independent "fourth estate" the press. When government or the elected and appointed denizens thereof got out of line, the press stepped in and exposed the waste, fraud and abuse. The New York Times publication of the Pentagon Papers, and the Washington Post investigation of Watergate were among the finest hours of American journalism. 

And when representative government failed, aggrieved citizens could turn to the rule of law, and ultimately the Supreme Court, as it desegregated public education, enforced voting rights, protected the citizen's right to privacy, and maintained the wall of separation between church and state.

Within the past year, all these foundations of our civic and political trust the franchise, representative government, the press, the Supreme Court -- have been severely compromised.

Throughout the country, but most significantly in the deciding state of Florida, eligible voters in heavily Democratic districts were refused access to the ballot box, or if they managed to vote their ballots were invalidated, all this through an array of tactics too numerous to mention but familiar to those who watched or read the transcripts of the hearings of the U. S. Civil Rights Commission. It is virtually certain that a sizeable majority of Florida voters intended to vote for Al Gore.

Even so, George Bush had the unmitigated gall to proclaim to the American public and to the world that terrorists "hate what they see right here in this chamber: a democratically elected government." Alas, his administration was not "democratically elected." We the People know this, and thus our implicit trust in the "sanctity of the ballot" has been taken from us.

In that election of 2000, the "consent of the governed" was overturned by that very institution that we had come to regard as the final protector of our liberty and of the rule of law: the Supreme Court of the United States. The text of that treasonous decision, Bush v. Gore a compendium of incoherence, inconsistency and special pleading in defense of a foregone partisan conclusion stands in permanent condemnation of the "felonious five" who crafted it. The immediate cost of Bush v. Gore is the realization, throughout the realm, that the Supreme Court can no longer be trusted to act in behalf of the citizens at large or to serve as a protector of the rule of law. Instead, it has become just another instrument in the service of "The Establishment" of wealth and privilege.  (See "Day of Infamy" and "We Dissent," this site).

The restoration of the stature and integrity of the Supreme Court after the massive betrayal of public trust in Bush v. Gore will have to be hard-won over a long time. And that restoration is by no means assured.

In addition, the American press, once the wonder and envy of the civilized world, has been transformed from a watchdog to a lapdog of the "conservative" political establishment. The mighty "pen," which facilitated the end of a dreadful foreign war in Viet Nam and which forced a felonious President from office, became, in the recent Presidential election, little more than a PR arm of one of the contestants. Bush entered office with a myriad of questions about his personal qualifications and political positions left unexamined. In the meantime, Al Gore, generally regarded at the outset of the campaign as a skillful, well-informed, highly intelligent, and honorable public servant, was transformed in the public mind into a self-absorbed, pathological liar. This was accomplished by the unrebutted media promulgation of what can only be called a baseless slander. The particulars that Gore claimed to have "invented the internet," to have "discovered the Love Canal site," and so on all were invented whole-cloth and broadcast promiscuously by the media. (See "The Hijacked Election," this site).

Even so, Gore gathered more votes than Bush. But it was close enough that a combination of conniving Florida pols, GOP thugs at the county election offices, selective disenfranchisement of legal voters by a private and partisan "research organization," and so on, topped off by Bush v. Gore, sufficed to steal the election and violate the "consent of the governed."

As corrosive as outright lies to a democratic order, is media distraction and irrelevance. Thus, throughout the past summer and up to the moment the airliners crashed into the twin towers, the media turned their major sustained attention to the sexual dalliance of an obscure congressman, and the unsolved disappearance of a young intern. Week after week, no new information came forth regarding Chandra/Condit. But that constipation of news did not forestall a diarrhea of commentary and speculation. 

In the meantime, the theft of the Presidency and the transfer of the public treasury to the wealthiest fraction of our citizens were somehow judged by the media moguls as unworthy of public attention. Most tragic of all, there was no media attention to the ongoing threat of terrorism, and the failure of the administration, despite repeated reports and warnings, to deal with that threat.

Since that dreadful event, a few courageous journalists who have dared to express dissent and criticism of the Bogus-POTUS have been fired by their publishers. Those who have not have thus been warned and subdued.

This wholesale delinquency of public responsibility by the American media has led many, myself among them, to look abroad for responsible and informative journalism. In my case, in order to find out what is happening in the world, and even in the US, I have added the Canadian Broadcasting and British Broadcasting websites to my "favorites." It has come to that.

Finally, the Presidency itself, and particularly Bush's Press office, have become fountainheads of lies. Virtually from the moment that Dubya took office, we were served the slander that the departing Clinton administration had "trashed" the executive offices. The General Accounting Office set that record straight. Today we are given the tale of the "targeted Air Force One." Like their most steadfast media apologist, Rush "I'm not making this up folks" Limbaugh, the Bush spinmeister's "make things up" to suit the perceived needs of the moment. But why should we expect otherwise? These folks come from the world of marketing and corporate public relations the same folks that have told us that "cigarettes are not addictive," that DDT is "perfectly safe," and that concern about global warming is based on "junk science."

Nor is that the end of it. Borrowing a few pages from George Orwell's "1984," the Bush press crew attempts to rewrite history. Thus, when Ari Fleischer intemperately warned comedian Bill Maher that "Americans need to watch what they say, watch what they do..." that warning was "sanitized" in the official transcript, presumably by someone in Bush's "Ministry of Truth."  Asked about this in a subsequent press briefing, Fleischer suggested that this was due to a "clerical error." Perhaps. But why, at long last, should we believe this or anything else that issues from the podium of the White House press room? 

And when the White House has urgent news or instructions for the American people the acceptance of which is vital to the national interest, from what fund of credibility will the Administration draw, now that it has so recklessly squandered its capital of trustworthiness?

Over the past two decades, "conservative" pundits and politicians have told us endlessly that "government can't be trusted" and that virtually all government functions can best be handled by "private enterprise." As if to prove their point, while in power the "conservatives" have violated the sanctity of the franchise and the integrity of the rule of law, and have spewed out "misinformation" from the their ill-gotten public offices, all of which has provided just cause to further distrust government. And through the accumulation and concentration of media control and ownership, they have closed down the vigorous and diverse public debate which is the lifeblood of a democratic society. 

So now, when our country has been dealt a grievous injury and faces horrendous threats by a determined, resourceful and remorseless enemy, we are called upon to place our trust and loyalty in an administration which has gained office through an unprincipled manipulation and subversion of our foundational political institutions: the vote, the rule of law, and the free press. Today, when we desperately need to trust our government trust, that essential moral resource has, like the federal surplus, been squandered to serve private greed and ambition.

George W. Bush, a de jure usurper, is the de facto leader of the American government. And while he is a leader manifestly ill-qualified to deal with the responsibilities before him, he is nonetheless the only leader in sight. In the face of the current emergency, we can only hope that he will be advised by wiser heads, and that his leadership in the struggle against terrorism will be successful up to and not a moment beyond Inauguration Day, 2005.

The essential first step in restoring trust in our political institutions is to separate from the government, those who are most responsible for discrediting those institutions.

Copyright 2001, by Ernest Partridge


Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .