Mistrust and Trust


It was the spring of 1970.  The United States had just announced that it was expanding the war in Vietnam by authorizing bombing campaigns in Cambodia.  Campuses across the country erupted in protest.  On May 4, four protesting students at Kent State were shot and killed by the state national guard.  A nationwide college strike was the response, so students could be freed up from final exams in order to do what they could to end the war.

I attended the student-led meeting in Johnson Chapel at Amherst College, where I was finishing my freshman year.  Strategies were presented; rallies were proposed; teach-ins were scheduled.  The room was filled with an air of urgency, kindled by a deepening commitment to act.

And I was ambivalent.  Up until then I can’t say that I was a supporter of the war, but I had trusted the government’s messaging surrounding it, and the need for America to achieve “peace with honor”, which had been long been then-President Nixon’s mantra.   I trusted that.  As the meeting broke up, I voiced my ambivalence to some classmates  They respectfully listened to my concerns;  but when I began repeating the government’s rationale for its actions, one classmate gently but clearly said, “maybe the government isn’t telling the truth.”

That had never occurred to me. I had always had an implicit trust in the rightness of America; that it was always acting in good faith and for what was best in the world.  But my classmate’s comments completely reframed my worldview.  In some ways it was a conversion experience.

My new perspective came with a deepening commitment to justice and a profound distrust of the government.  I began to questions much of the history I had been taught.  New doors were being opened, and old doors were being shut.

At some level I think I enjoyed closing doors more than opening them  Distrusting government, rebelling against authority came with an exhilarating rush.  It was a perverse kind of fun.  It was easy, and filled with self righteousness. And so many of us anti-war protesters shared that fun by demeaning and dismissing the gears of government.  “Don’t trust anyone over thirty”, was another mantra that gained considerable cultural traction.

And that became a problem.

In his 1981 inaugural address, President Ronald famously said, “government isn’t the solution to the problem; government is the problem”,  a comment that — intentionally or not, has given birth to several decades of distrust.  I would like to think that distrust of the government, which is now primarily coming from the political right, has reached its peak, but I am worried that it is still in crescendo mode.  And as I listen to people complain about the elites in government, and insist that elections and courts are rigged, I detect a similar satisfaction in demeaning, dismissing and distrusting the other side.

And that is a problem.

Distrust can be easy to create, but difficult to repair.  Trust is rooted in the Latin word fid — from which we get fidelity.  It is holding a steadfastness to an idea or belief or purpose.  Fido, often caricatured as a dog’s name, refers to the loyalty and trust  — the fid — a pet has for its owner.

It is tempting to demean distrust in order to regain it. Building on distrust only leads to resentment which, as one writer puts it, is drinking poison so that someone else will get sick. 

I think distrust can only be overcome by building trust.  Which is hard, and takes a long time. And  requires a combination of faith and hope.  Faith and hope not just in one’s own position or belief system, but faith and hope that common ground can be unearthed with those who don’t share our position or belief system.    Trust is a gift that we are invited to embrace.  It involves fid — a commitment to searching out the giftedness of everyone.  Even when, no especially when, we don’t want to.

The Dread of the Assassination Attempt

Like many of us, the attempted assassination of Donald Trump sent my mind racing.  Who was the shooter?  Why did he do it?  Was security inadequate?  Would former President Trump be OK?  What does this mean for the election?  For Republicans?  For Democrats?  For the...

Praying for Biden and Trump

For a good stretch of my early years, prayer was a confounding exercise.  My family regularly went to church – where the congregation prayed while I dealt with itching legs from my flannel pants.  We said grace before dinner, which invariably became a contest over...

A Debate of Egos; the Need for the Soul

Last week I attended a debate watch party.  It was held in the Carthage College chapel in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on the first night of the Braver Angels Convention, an annual event that brings equal numbers of red (conservative) and blue (progressive) and yellow...

The Ten Commandments: Laws or Guidelines

Last week the governor of Louisiana signed a law mandating that the Ten Commandments be displayed in public school classrooms.  In some ways I get it, in spite of the fact that like so many it challenges the constitutional separation of church and state.  The Ten...

Challenges to Trusting the Process

Trust the process. This was a phrase I often heard when a strategy session or a problem-solving meeting bogged down.   The group would get stuck, and in frustration someone would either suggest we scrap the whole enterprise, or would start accusing a participant of...

Ep 13 – “A Common Humanity” with Wilk Wilkinson

Wilk Wilkinson joins me to discuss his journey from political apathy to toxic political engagement, followed by the epiphany that since led him on a mission of bettering the world, one attitude at a time, by charting a course toward understanding, bridging divides, and fostering a community where wisdom prevails over discord.

Time and Space Needed for Grief and Mourning

“In war, death interrupts nothing.  Time doesn’t stop; it seems to accelerate.”  So wrote David French, in a New York Times column on May 25, 2024.  A veteran of the Iraq War, French goes on to say that in battle there is no time or space for mourning the loss of a...

Whose Land is It?

A couple of weeks ago, I came across this passage from my daily reading:     “From the wilderness and the Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates,all the land of the Hittites, to the Great Sea in the west shall be your territory.   No one will be able...

Ep 12 – “The Church Cracked Open” with The Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers

Canon Spellers shares her journey from being a skeptic and critic of the Church to becoming a senior leader with a deep faith and a commitment to social justice. We explore the themes of mission, evangelism, the power of genuine curiosity in bridging divides, and ongoing efforts to address systemic issues like white supremacy within the church.

Dealing With Fear

Tornados of fear are swirling around the world, many of them invading our psyches.  Wars in Ukraine and Gaza, not to mention Sudan and Myanmar; escalating climate change; unrelenting gun violence; immigration crises.  To my mind, the storms of fear are particularly...
Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join my mailing list to receive the latest blog updates.

You have Successfully Subscribed!