MICHAEL REAGAN: Trust us on this: Less trust among us

Cagle Creators Syndicate Published:

Trust ain't what it used to be in America.

Back in 1972, when the folks conducting the General Social Survey first asked a sampling of Americans if they trusted their countrymen, about half said they did.

Last year, when the same research outfit asked the same set of questions, only a third of our fellow Americans said they trusted one another.

The GSS folks found that Americans -- black and white, rich or poor -- are more leery, suspicious and mistrustful of others than ever before.

As long as the General Social Survey itself can be trusted, it both confirms and contradicts what my eyes and ears have been telling me for years.

On one hand, the survey fou nd that about two-thirds of Americans believe "you can't be too careful" dealing with others. The Associated Press followed up this year with a poll on some specifics.

Americans say they don't trust other drivers not to crash into them.

They say they don't trust the retail clerks who swipe their credit cards.

They say they don't trust the people they meet when they are traveling.

The GSS didn't bother to ask if we trusted the government or Wall Street or the mainstream news media. The AP found that 81 percent of Americans seldom trust the government in Washington.

No one needs a survey to discover that most of us believe those big American institutions can't be trusted.

It's also understandable why so many Americans, especially the young, don't trust our leaders and social institutions like marriage, the church and the family.

A lot of young people have fallen out of trust with President Obama lately, for good reason. Ditto for churches.

And after seeing so many marriages break up, why would a young person trust her own marriage to last? Better to not get married in the first place.

Despite the survey results, however, the real problem might be that too many Americans -- especially young ones -- are actually too trusting in some ways.

Too many people of all ages still blindly trust that what they see on TV and the Internet is true. But when it comes to social media, kids -- and too many of their parents -- are incredibly trusting and naive.

By the millions, they post their personal data and deepest thoughts on Facebook. They email each other. They sext love notes to each other. They send out compromising selfies on their smart phones.

In t he Smart Phone Age, when everyone with an iPhone thinks he's a news reporter, trusting everyone in the room or on the street with your secret or your politically incorrect opinion is a dumb idea.

Ask Mitt Romney. Ask Prince Harry. Ask Alec Baldwin.

It's pretty clear that technology and social media have outrun our ability to handle them. Until we get a grip on them, until we learn to use them maturely, we shouldn't trust them so much.

So who do we trust? We trust the people and institutions who earn our trust. And if no one is earning it, we have to learn to trust ourselves. I hope we still know how to do that.

Michael Reagan is the son of President Ronald Reagan, a political consultant, and president of The Reagan Legacy Foundation. Visit his website at www.reagan.com.

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  • At the top of the list is the DC establishment. This quote is appropriate to understand why Congress and the White House cannot be trusted.

    “…such laws (as obamacare) start not from equal rights but from equal (and often unequal) privileges, the favors or benefits that government may bestow on or withhold from its clients. The whole point is to empower government officials, usually unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats, to bless or curse your petitions as they see fit, guided, of course, by their expertise in a law so vast, so intricate, and so capricious that it could justify a hundred different outcomes in the same case. When law ceases to be a common standard of right and wrong and a common measure to decide all controversies, then the rule of law ceases to be repub lican and becomes despotic. Freedom itself ceases to be a right and becomes a gift, or the fruit of a corrupt bargain, because in such degraded regimes, those who are close to and connected with the ruling class have special privileges.”  Charles Keslar