Trust is an interesting concept. In some ways, it's the glue that holds together modern society. We trust that the money in our bank accounts will be there when we ask for it. We trust that the water we drink isn't full of poisons and toxins. We trust that the toys we buy our children won't blow up in their faces. Of course, we don't really trust the companies that provide these things, but we do trust the government agencies assigned to check up on and regulate these companies. Of course we do - otherwise you'd be carrying all your money in cash instead of on a bank card. For that matter, you'd be carrying around gold pieces instead of promisary notes from the US Treasury. Maybe you've lost faith in your municipal water supply, but you still trust that Deer Park is safe. Without trust, we'd be primitive, hunting our own food, building our own homes, battling our neighbors.
In 2000, George Bush ran for President on a platform of trust. The American people could trust him, he said. There would be no chubby intern sex in his White House. The American electorate bought it, of course, and Bush began his mission to restore the Presidency to its glory days before Nixon tarnished its reputation. But though this might mean increased transparency for another President, for Bush it meant increased secrecy. Meetings were held behind closed doors with unnamed people. Press conferences were held less and less frequently. The public was told that it just had to trust the President. This probably would not have worked with the suspicious press. This was not 1940 when the press was complicit in the coverup of Republican nominee Wendell Wilkie's affair or 1960 when the press ignored Democrat President John F. Kennedy's affairs. Who knows what would have happened if terrorists had not attacked in 2001. But when they did, Americans put their faith in Bush because they had to.
It actually came as a surprise to Bush's opponents that he squandered this goodwill. Personally, I didn't expect the bitter partisanship that followed. I didn't expect him to use the opportunity to roll back environmental laws, privacy laws, church-and-state laws. But more importantly, I didn't expect him to blatantly tell falsehoods and not come clean when they were revealed to be untrue. And still Americans trusted the man, despite howls from frustrated Democrats that the lying was too obvious to ignore. Yet ignore they did. Why? My guess is that "trust" had nothing to do with lying or even perjury in front of a grand jury, as Republicans had proclaimed. "Trust" had to do with a promise Bush made to the social Right wing of the country - that he would restore their place of glory within America. That the churches and the libertarians and the downtrodden would once again sit on the top of the social ladder.
Today's "news" is that the majority of Americans polled distrust Bush (Free Login required). The article attributes it to the quagmire of Iraq. But I think there's more going on. Democrats clearly lost faith with Bush years ago. Independents probably broke off in 2003 amid lies about Iraq. Plame-gate surely didn't help. But any Republicans losing their trust of Bush are probably doing so because of Bush's unkeepable "promise" made in 2000. After five years, the disaffecteds who helped push him into office still don't see the respect and admiration they crave. Dems have wondered aloud for years how the alliance between wealthy economic conservatives and poor social conservatives stood so solidly. Well, for years they have believed in the "promise", first made by Ronald Reagan. (It's interesting to note in "Christianity Today"'s article on Reagan, they commented how he "rarely delivered on [evangelicals'] issues) For 25 years Republicans have made this deal with the social conservatives, but were excused for failing to deliver because they never held enough power. Now Republicans solidly hold all three branches of government, and they've run out of excuses. Now we are starting to see some cracks in the alliance. Now the evangelicals are starting to realize that they've been used, to an extent. Oh sure, they may get some public funding for Christian schools. Sure, they could potentially get Roe v. Wade overturned. But those are longshots, and it's becoming clear to evangelicals that Bush and his Congress are not rushing to satisfy them.
Will Trust be the thing that will sink this unflappable golden boy? Unless something changes in his favor between now and 2008, he probably won't see the love that he's used to. Bush is a lame duck, while members of Congress have re-elections to prepare for. Bush is finding out that getting to power and staying in power are two different beasts. And yet... it will be interesting to see how he responds to this challenge.