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The last thing Trump will do is restore trust in institutions.

Donald Trump gave his first lengthy interview after his felony conviction to three Fox News talk show hosts.

The discussion unfolded exactly as that description suggests, with the hosts tenderly asking questions on a T-shirt before celebrating Trump’s powerful move. Which certainly doesn’t mean there hasn’t been any news; even in T-ball, some windows can be broken.

There is, however, one element of the discussion that hasn’t attracted much attention. It centered on a question from Rachel Campos-Duffy, co-host of “Fox & Friends Weekend,” the show on which the interview first aired.

“Americans have lost a lot of trust in institutions, and I think there has been a lot of discussion, especially online, especially with young people,” Campos-Duffy began. “How do we rebuild that trust in institutions – the CIA, the FBI – all of these institutions?

“You’re right,” Trump responded – but before he could respond, Campos-Duffy took the lead.

“Some people think that one way to build trust is to declassify the things that everyone is talking about,” she said. She then made a quick list of things he might want to declassify, supposedly to restore trust in institutions.

“Would you like to declassify the 9/11 files? she asked, to which Trump replied, “Yeah.”

“Would you like to declassify the JFK files?” » she continued, giving in a “yeah” again. But this time, Trump added: “I did it. I’ve done a lot of it.

This reminds us that Trump already had the opportunity to declassify this information, but did not do so – particularly in the case of material related to the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

“Would you like to declassify the Epstein files? asked Campos-Duffy, referring to the disgraced financier who was linked to prominent Americans.

“Yeah,” Trump replied. “Yeah, I would.”

Then there was a question from host Pete Hegseth…at least on the broadcast show. A fuller version of the interview posted on YouTube shows Trump had more thoughts about Epstein.

“I guess I would,” Trump continued in the YouTube version. “I think it’s less the case because, you know, you don’t know – you don’t want to affect people’s lives if there’s some bogus stuff in there, because there’s a lot of fake stuff in this whole world.”

Among those who have been linked to Epstein is, of course, former President Donald Trump. No wonder he’s reluctant to remind Campos-Duffy that if you declassify things, some people might get the wrong impression.

“Do you think this would restore trust? Help restore confidence? » asked Campos-Duffy.

“I don’t know Epstein as much as the others,” Trump responded. There was one area where he was not afraid to release information: Epstein’s death while in custody. Trump also proposed declassifying documents related to the Capitol riot on January 6, 2021.

Epstein’s unbroadcast awkwardness aside, Campos-Duffy’s question and Trump’s response are telling. It is clear that many Americans view large institutions with skepticism and that this is especially true among many younger Americans. It is also true that Trump has long nurtured and exploited this perception and there is no reason to think he would do much to combat it.

Trump’s rhetoric consistently amplifies the idea that powerful interests are working against average Americans — although he generally limits his examples to how he claims they are working against him. America under a president other than Trump is still on the brink of collapse; America under President Trump is a place of exception and wonder, save for the occasional pandemic.

This idea that no institution can be trusted – not science, not military leaders who disagree with it, not teachers and certainly not the media – is a common characteristic of authoritarian political leaders. Eliminate trust in civilian organizations and you can build trust in yourself. This has been Trump’s strategy from the beginning.

This is particularly useful for Trump right now because of his appeal to young, independent voters. President Biden’s support among younger Americans has fallen rapidly during his first year in office, and his current polling numbers are worse than those of most recent Democratic presidential candidates. This is certainly in part because younger Americans are less likely to engage with political systems and, therefore, more likely to be willing to view his candidacy with skepticism. Among those most invested in the political process, Biden fared better.

It is not true that younger Americans are considerably more skeptical of institutions overall. A poll from the General Social Survey, a national poll conducted every two years, shows that there are some institutions in which young Americans have less trust, such as the military, religion and the press. In some cases, such as in Congress, they count more than Americans aged 65 and over. (Categories focused on the U.S. government are indicated by gray boxes.)

If we look only at those 40 and under, there are often partisan divisions. But independents — including those who lean toward one party or the other — are never the group that trusts an institution the most. They still constitute the group that expresses the least confidence in government institutions.

This view appears elsewhere. Last month, Siena College released a poll conducted for the New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer looking at opinions in swing states. In these states, younger respondents were more likely than older ones to say that America’s political and economic system needs major changes or a complete dismantling.

The level of support for Trump among young respondents in these states correlated with the extent to which they thought Trump’s promises to overturn the system would be good or bad for the country.

For Trump, restoring trust in the institutions Campos-Duffy mentions – the CIA and the FBI – means little more than ensuring they carry out his will. Restoring trust in government as a whole means he will be president and have the power to reshuffle the federal bureaucracy to install loyalists wherever possible.

He is happy to agree to release documents about the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Kennedy assassination, not because he thinks it would somehow increase trust in institutions – that would almost certainly have the opposite effect – but because he knows that claiming these records must be released is itself a means of increasing distrust of the government. What are they hiding, anyway?

And the more he can make people, young and old, skeptical of the government and the current president, the greater his chances of returning to the White House. Once he returns to the White House, he will have the power to rebuild the government so that at least one person can have full confidence in what he does: himself.

washingtonpost

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