May 20, 2022

If you don’t trust a merchant, will you do business with him? If you don’t trust a lawyer, would you rely on his advice? If you distrust a doctor, would you let him operate on you?

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Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas said out loud what should by now be obvious to everyone.

“I no longer have trust in the institution,” Thomas said of the high court after the leak of a draft decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade.

Thomas was appalled by the breach of the court’s tradition of keeping tentative decisions secret until they are released in final form.

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“It was beyond anyone’s understanding, or at least anyone’s imagination, that someone would do that,” said Thomas. “I do think what happened at the court is tremendously bad. I wonder how long we’re going to have these institutions at the rate we’re undermining them, and then I wonder when they’re gone or they are destabilized, what we’ll have as a country — and I don’t think that the prospects are good if we continue to lose them.”

Any dispassionate assessment must conclude that what’s poisoned the high court to the point of being untrustworthy long ago spread to every institution in the land.

“Whom do you trust?” Make a list. It will be short, if you’re honest. Then make a list of the people, groups, and institutions you don’t trust. Not short at all.

The natural inclination of men to serve themselves at the expense of others is the root of distrust. Today, polls document Americans’ sinking faith in businesses, education, news agencies, even their religious institutions.

Pew Research Center concluded in 2019: “Many people no longer think the federal government can actually be a force for good or change in their lives. This kind of apathy and disengagement will lead to an even worse and less representative government.” Moreover, fading interpersonal trust is sinking just as badly: “As a democracy founded on the principle of E Pluribus Unum, the fact that we are divided and can’t trust sound facts means we have lost our confidence in each other.”

Institutions only function well when, like at an intersection, everyone trusts everyone else to stop on a red light. We’ve entered an age of no red lights, or even green lights. Chaos. Proceed at your own risk.