If there's one good thing that came out of this week's failure in the U.S. House of Representatives to pass a Wall Street “bailout” or “rescue” bill and the resulting freefall of stock value, it's that Minority Leader John Boehner was further exposed as the absolute knob that he is. The mess in Washington and New York actually prompted him to say the bill didn't pass because some Republicans didn't like the “tone” of a speech made by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. We're in the midst of what everyone on the political spectrum agrees is a national economic catastrophe, and Boehner says the alleged fix failed because the Democratic leader said unkind things.
Boehner's knobbery notwithstanding, it's hard to see anything good in the situation. Another major American institution has failed, and now that Wall Street has failed—a victim of its own greed—you can add it to the list of institutions in which we have lost our collective trust.
Most of us are Americans because our ancestors had no trust that their leaders were looking out for their interests.
They came here and established a truly extraordinary system of governance built on a foundation of trust. Great care was taken to create checks and balances meant to counteract human foibles and inspire trust. But during the last 50 years or so, there's been a concerted effort to rob us of our trust in government. We've been told that government can't be trusted to spend our money wisely. In particular, we've been told that our government can't possibly run a national healthcare system, even though we seem to trust it to operate the military, provide police and fire protection and educate our children, among other services (to varying degrees of success).
Meanwhile, it's doubtful that there's much trust left in corporate America, what with the widening chasm between obscene executive pay and average wages. Does anyone trust his or her HMO? Not while evidence piles up showing that great care is taken to protect shareholder interests at the expense of patient health—they'll search for any reason to deny claims for medical care. Nearly 50 million Americans have no access to basic healthcare, and people are traveling across borders to get care and buy medicine, for heaven's sake. There's no reason to trust that system—it has failed.
Even before the mortgage crisis led to a global credit crisis, the personal credit system had failed us. That was by design—we're indoctrinated into a system the moment we attend college (those of us with the wherewithal, of course) that hooks us on credit and keeps us in debt for the rest of our lives, limiting our choices and, for many of us, ensuring an existence beset with struggle. It has to be that way—that's how the financial-services sector profits, from interest and penalty payments. Both public and private pensions have failed, making it so many of us will have to work until we die.
Hell, we really don't even trust our neighbors. We're constantly coming up with ways to protect ourselves from each other. We lock our doors and install obnoxious car alarms because we're certain that someone aims to steal our stuff. Ask anyone you know whom or what she or he trusts. The certain answer is “my family and my friends.” The more religious among us will add “God” and, perhaps, “my rabbi / pastor / priest” (although the Catholic Church certainly has some trust issues right about now).
It's all a bit of a mess, isn't it? How did it get this way? Aren't all these things we've lost faith in created by and operated by people? They are someone's family and friends. They are us. Is it that we human beings are fine on an individual level, once you get to know us, but once we get placed in charge of something, all hell breaks loose and we lose sight of the common good?
It shouldn't be this hard. We should be able to operate a capitalist democracy that serves and protects us and regulates the corruptive power of the money that drives the system. CityBeat generally believes in the power of government to solve our problems and protect our future, if only the right kind of people were put in charge.
But then our government-run electoral system, corrupted by the influence of money, produces boobs like John Boehner. So, how can we ever regenerate our trust in any of these institutions? It's hard to reach any conclusion other than this: We appear to be screwed. What do you think? Please contribute to the conversation by writing to email@example.com.