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TRUTH AND TRUST – Through the glass darkly


I’m listening to the House Intelligence Committee gathering – Democrats and Republicans questioning Department of National Intelligence Director Joseph Maguire related to the whistleblower report and the phone call transcript tied to President Trump’s conversation with Ukraine leader Volodymyr Zelensky. Committee members on both sides, while trying to make the case that the President is or isn’t guilty of serious wrongdoing, are using words like integrity, honor, justice, accountability, nonpartisanship, duty to the country and that no one is above the law. It’s as if each side is trying to demonstrate that they exist on some moral/ethical high ground above the other – a circumstance where the crucial matters at hand seem lost in the overall theater of contemporary politics. We will certainly see where the chips fall when the curtain closes on this current episode of government in action.  But while this takes place keep in mind that we are getting a great look at the imperfections that permeate our democratic process.  In fact, the President may deserve “a tip of the hat” for this unintended expose’.  In other words, although he has fallen well short of his promise to “drain the swamp” his personal and political behavior have allowed us to see firsthand how other “swampsters” – the elected officials who via their own slippery-sloped, quid-pro-quo, money-backed political lives – actually stay afloat in such murky waters.  This is in fact the kind of water where Trump seems to thrive best, recognizing that both his detractors and supporters share a similar culture, one where anyone at any time might be cited for some form of political chicanery. In any event it may well be that via this look we might become better informed as to what it will take to clean-up our messy, political environment – perhaps adding this massive effort to the list of our other problematic, environmental concerns.

Amid the troublesome and often shameful goings-on I couldn’t help reflect on my professorial experiences and the question I would ask my Contemporary Social Issues class at the beginning of every semester. It was one among several questions designed to set a frame as to how those in the class generally thought about the American experiment and to also suggest what we would be discussing in the class in terms of the social, political and economic elements linked to their thoughts.  The particular question I recalled was, “Do you trust our government?” And the reason it resonated so strongly amid the House gathering was that 70 to 80 percent of the students, in over two decades of classes, answered “No.” This result always seemed a bit disheartening, especially as the bulk of the remaining percentage bordered on the “not really” line. Yet the result reflected a growing reality that demanded examination. (I would also ask this question at public discussions and/or conferences with much the same result.)

In further exploring the rationale for the responses it appeared that given the distortion of words like those referenced at the hearing, as well as the use of false equivalences, the selective use of facts, the implication that two-wrongs somehow could make a right, the stylized use of messaging-spin, the pandering to public good interests with a more focused eye on profit and lobbying support and the overall trickiness of the political culture, it was difficult to place trust in idea of “the truth.”  And this, coupled   with the realities of the country’s national and international history, the enduring racism, the continuing income equality, the ever present impact of cash, color and class on processes like criminal justice – well, trust and truth seemed words that could hardly be held to their intended standard.

O f course this type of examination would lead to considering:  And so? That is, what can we do now?  Is it that by means of the critical thinking employed that we arrive at the point where there is simply no way out? Is this the dismal fate of our American experiment? For the true skeptic, what we see before us may well be speaking to the fate of our empire, as it was with the many before us.  In this context, we may be able to hold on to some of the power we have garnered in the world but the crumbling from within will continue in taking its toll.

Yet, according to the surveys done post each class, the discussions we had throughout the course proved informative, provocative and well received. This was especially so in regard to the detailing of our political-democratic process and its link to our economic-capitalist process, a clarification that helped those in class better grasp the actual character of our country and what might be done to  improve upon that character while working at social issue concerns.  This process pointed to the fact that, much like with individual problems, the pursuit of the “truth” in a societal sense would involve a collective, self-analysis, even though this would be both difficult and painful, especially as remedies would demand long-range, tireless and complex efforts.  In this light then, there are indeed paths that can lead to the road of legitimate and productive change, a road where words like truth and trust will have more meaning.  All we need to do is look honestly for where these paths exist.  

I must admit that as positive as this might sound I continue to worry that as the serious concerns on the Trump table are sorted through, little will be gleaned as to addressing the overall “truth and trust” conundrum we find ourselves in. I myself have discussed, lectured, written about and worked at projects regarding this predicament for as long as my forty-year career has been in effect. Yet there has not been much change in terms of raising the deep-seated, soul- searching issues we face to their corresponding level of importance and actual action.

In being forever optimistic, however, I remain hopeful that we are not stuck with what we have, that we will get to the matters at hand, that we can come to a realization regarding our collective identity and that we will move on from there. Perhaps the hope lies somewhere in the mix of our current political campaigns, or with the newbies coming into Congress, or with a fed-up/angry/cost-bearing public, or with some combination of them all. Whatever occurs let it be clear that as Trump and the rest carry on, we have definable “teachable moments” directly in front of us. And we need to be sure that we chart our future course with what we are learning accordingly.


About the author:

Politics editor James Palombo’s work focuses on issues related to social, political and economic concerns in the U.S. and abroad. He is the author of several books, the most prominent being his autobiographical discourse, “Criminal to Critic-Reflections Amid The American Experiment,”Rowman and Littlefield Publishers. The book chronicles his experiences from drug dealer and convict to social worker, professor, world traveler and public policy advocate. While continuing to travel he divides his time mainly between Endicott, New York, and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.