America Knee-Deep in Mistrust

America Knee-Deep in Mistrust
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Two women in their mid-50s stood talking in a longer-than-usual grocery line the day after last weekend's Democrat debate. They focused not on the debate's substance but on their belief that Hillary Clinton “gamed” everyone by being tardy during a bathroom break.

“She made sure she under­scored that she is a female, that everything is tilted unfairly away from women — and there was power in that move,” said the first woman of Hillary's 2-minute absence from the stage after the first network break.

Her companion nodded: “It was brilliant. She not only did it to the good ol' boys of her party, she is going to beat the Republicans on this because she's a woman.”

I'm not sure which is sadder — that we're so cynical about a bathroom break (it was later revealed that Hillary had farther to walk than her male rivals, and it's no secret that women's clothing and plumbing is more complicated), or that we accept and applaud her being so diabolical as to use gender to grandstand in such a way.

America ends this year on a low note in terms of trusting government. Everyone, it appears, lies to us; worse, they seem supremely confident that we will accept it.

We even lie to ourselves to make our choices seem more palatable. A late November Pew poll — “Beyond distrust: How Americans view their government” — showed that not only do we distrust whom we've elected, we distrust ourselves collectively to make good choices in the future.

That is a pretty damning indictment of what politics has done to America's psyche.

Right before Christmas, President Obama sat down with a group of Washington- and New York-based progressive columnists for an off-the-record conversation, mostly centered on his response to the San Bernardino terror attack.

The rule for such events is basically to report what Obama said (and to impact the national discourse in his favor) without attributing it to Obama.

Two New York Times journalists, for the briefest of moments, forgot that rule and wrote exactly what Obama said, attributing it to him: “In his meeting with the columnists, Mr. Obama indicated that he did not see enough cable television to fully appreciate the anxiety after the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, and made clear that he plans to step up his public arguments. Republicans were telling Americans that he is not doing anything when he is doing a lot, he said.”

They quickly scrubbed that paragraph from the story after it appeared online.

The Times' explanation was that it was trimmed for space. But, if you use the news archival tool Newsdiffs .org, you can see the other changes made after they cut the paragraph — and it shows they added more words than they subtracted.

More likely, the reporters got an icy phone call from the White House, blasting them for breaking the rules with an incriminating paragraph that revealed what's long been suspected of Obama, even by his supporters: that he is a detached, disconnected man, unwilling and unable to understand his country's fears.

Two days later, with absolutely no verification, Hillary Clinton said that Donald Trump “is becoming ISIS's best recruiter.” The terrorist group, she said, is “showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims, in order to recruit more radical jihadists.” The truth is quite different: Trump has no problem with edgy comments about Muslims, but neither Hillary nor her campaign could cite any specific video that they have seen.

In fact, her campaign admitted Clinton had no particular video in mind, saying instead that “he is being used in social media.”

I have often written that we get the elections and the government we deserve. Right now, we are knee-deep in mistrust, flailing about because neither party has filled the leadership vacuum needed during a time of terrorism and economic displacement.

That includes the president: He has been rudderless in a sea of dysfunction.

We must start to trust something, and it should begin with ourselves. If we can't trust ourselves to competently pick the next president, then we will once again get the election and the government we deserve.


Salena Zito is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorial page columnist. E-mail her at
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