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Why Americans Distrust Politicians

Don’t Believe Anything They Say or Do

In my last blog I addressed why “political ethics” is an oxymoron so I found it informative and confirmatory to watch the candidates and their surrogates the past two Sundays on the morning talk shows. Interviews with Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates and their surrogates reinforced why so many Americans hate politics and politicians. It’s more than not trusting the candidates themselves, we can’t stand politicians and surrogates who answer questions from a set of talking points emailed by the campaigns. We loathe those who answer a question about the behavior of their candidate by deflecting it and telling us why the other candidate is worse or when he/she or their party did the same thing in the past. We distrust everyone in politics and the system itself because promises over the years have not been kept and that politicians will promise us anything to get our votes.

Trump and Clinton

Trump and Clinton both have committed acts that, at a minimum, would be considered unethical in most environments and illegal in many others. Surrogates dismiss these concerns by ignoring the ethics of behavior and playing up that no laws were violated. This is an “ethical legalism” approach that holds if it’s not illegal, it’s OK to commit the act -- or the ends justifies the means.

We all know that more than half the electorate would prefer a candidate different than Clinton and Trump. Most of us believe that Clinton is dishonest and untrustworthy. Examples include: (1) the way she handles responses to questions about why she used her own email server while Secretary of State; (2) the nature and scope of her emails sent and read, and seemingly not understanding the government’s classification system; (3) her allowing donations to the Clinton Foundation by foreign donors and others who expected a seat at the table in return; (4) the way she has flip-flopped on many issues, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), free tuition, eliminating student debt and so on. The latter was driven by Bernie Sanders’ success in gaining Millennials’ support for his candidacy. On these issues Clinton played “follow the leader.”

Trump is just as bad but for different reasons. First, while he touts his business acumen, I find it hard to trust a person who has filed for bankruptcy so often. How can we expect him to handle the finances of the U.S. government? His employment practices have been awful given that he rails against immigrants taking jobs away from Americans and then hiring them for work on his properties and to manufacture Trump products sold around the world. He often acts first and then considers the consequences later on, a significant failing for any leader.

Serving the Public Good

We, as Americans, learned long ago that our politicians are mainly out there to serve their own interests and not the public good. How else can we explain that so little has been done for the past twenty years to deal with perpetual problems such as: a failed immigration system; failed education system; untrained workers for today’s inter-connected, globally competitive world; crumbling infrastructure; outrageously high national debt; and unchecked trade agreements that favor foreign interests over American interests.

The bottom line it’s no longer the 1960s when we could afford to sacrifice at home to develop the economies of other countries such as Mexico and Asian countries. Long ago we accepted an imbalance in trade agreements to foster economic development and move these countries toward a capitalistic economic model by fashioning trade deals beneficial to those countries and costly to America. We can no longer afford to provide foreign aid to countries that should be able to take care of their own people and/or should rely on other countries for foreign aid; and we can no longer develop trade deals that take jobs away from Americans and provide jobs for foreigners.

The Ethical ‘Bottom Line’

Ethically speaking, politicians have failed us on a number of accounts. Our Presidential candidates have acted irresponsibly in their own personal affairs and pander to groups they perceive can help them get votes. Congress is a complete failure for allowing festering problems to spread like a disease. The key element in all these issues is a lack of integrity, or principled behavior. I no longer believe politicians are driven by public service. They are driven by serving their own interests, the interests of donors and lobbyists, and to hold on to their position in the next election.

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