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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 2/10/21

Good morning! TRUST No one trusts anyone anymore. This is a sad commentary, since I believe trust is critical to any well-functioning organization or society. For us to function we need to know that people share our values, commit to following the laws of a civil society, tell the truth, and act in good faith. But as we all know, faith in institutions—the media, corporations, government, universities, everyone, is at all-time lows. And there’s ample reason for this lack of trust.

  • We can’t trust colleges, which take bribes for admissions, artificially expand their applicant base (among students with no realistic chance for admission) to lower their admissions percentage

  • We can’t trust those administering the vaccine, as “insider deals” are rampant. Access to the vaccine is inconsistently applied through rules that are difficult to enforce.

  • We can’t trust government on so many levels—having failed to respond to COVID effectively and unwilling to stand up to the misinformation and misdirection coming first from the administration and now from members of Congress.

  • Our elected leaders can’t be trusted to put the country’s best interests ahead of partisan advantage. The most egregious example of course is the near-total Republican sell-out to a fantasy imagining of the recent election—the most transparent and problem-free election of our lifetimes.

  • The media seems less reliable and more concerned with ratings than news. Forget about some of them that are dubbed “news outlets”—but are not really news at all, but mouthpieces for an angry agenda.

  • Social media has abdicated its responsibility to control misinformation and hate speech. Their interests are directly opposed to those of society. They want traffic, attention and clicks when what we need is truth and constructive dialog.

I struggle to make sense of the long-term decline in trust. Of course, as trust declines, nothing is to be believed—even the simplest of statements of fact. And when nothing is believable, the unbelievable rises to plausibility. In its most basic and disturbing manifestations, this lack of trust led to violence at our Capitol arising from beliefs like:

  • There is not a statement, judicial decision, piece of evidence, proof, or logic that will convince some meaningful percentage of the American voting public that they should trust myriad judges, election officials and secretaries of state, all of whom confirm we just completed a fair election process that resulted in a clear winner.

  • There is not a statement that Donald Trump can make—nothing—that will permit his followers to consider the possibility that he is a lying or is dangerous, notwithstanding the detailed investigative journalism confirming his cavalcade of lies.

  • Advisor after advisor to Mr. Trump indicated that the election was fair, that the Russians indeed have been spreading disinformation, that the Russians are behind a massive data breach, and that it is time to turn the page to the next administration. Rather than accept that perhaps these people are speaking the truth, the former President’s supporters immediately jettison each of the people espousing these views as “not true patriots,” “not true Republicans” or enemies of the State.

Then again, maybe that’s where we are. Trust is in retreat because truth-telling is in retreat? Lying is no longer shamed. One of the former President’s advisors stated he “never said” there would be 20 million vaccinations by year-end. So the reporter played the tape of that person actually saying precisely that… only then did he relent. Then there are those whom we should be inclined to trust but they have squandered their trust. There was a day when a news source would have a recognized bias but still at least attempted to adhere to standards of journalistic ethics and responsibility. The other day, I received an article from a friend that was published by a news organization that described itself as “America’s most trusted Conservative news source.” This description actually is an act of public service. Given that they self-describe themselves as a vehicle of a political point of view, it should dissuade any reader from believing them. They might as well have said, “we have a political agenda, so don’t trust us.” Among the items high on the list for the new Congress, restoring some sense of trust in it and the institutions of our government should be on the agenda. It’s a tall order, and I’m not sure whether there are enough people of good faith—on either side of the aisle—to elicit this trust. Transparency, honesty and humility would be a good start. APOLOGIES TO ALEC BALDWIN I can’t believe that in my glee to point out that Ringo Starr and George Carlin played the Conductor on Thomas the Tank Engine, I completely forgot the third person who played that role—the one and only Alec Baldwin! Thank you, Joey Behrstock, for pointing this out. By the way, Howard Rodman notes that in the UK version of the show, the part was the “Fat Controller,” but that was believed too harsh for our sensitive American ears to “Sir Topham Hatt, the Conductor.” Here’s to Alec Baldwin, the definitive Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live. He’s fantastic. Yes, I know he has had his public embarrassments but in my mind he is one of the greatest actors of our time. He has made his mark not only for the roles he has played but the meta comedy and irony he provides. His performances as Jack Donahee in 30 Rock, Jack Ryan in The Hunt for Red October, and Blake in Glengarry Glen Ross are classic. Each of these performances are among the finest in their respective genres. Ringo, Carlin and Baldwin—for small children? How subversive. PLATE TECTONICS As we know, the Earth’s crust is in constant shift over a fluid base. Over the course of the last billion years the continents have moved back and forth, forming and reforming to settle at their current location, which is by no means their final resting place. Here’s a great time-lapse showing the movement of the plates over the last billion years: Warmly, Glenn

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