The tyranny of mistrust divides our country, but it can be defeated
By: Scott Jennings
Our Founding Fathers resolved that without freedom Americans could not enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. To secure it, they fought a war to break free from the bonds of tyranny.
It isn’t a faraway tyrant that oppresses us today. Rather, we are in the grip of a new kind of tyranny – that of mistrust. This tyrant sits on a throne in our minds and is just as cruel as King George was during the time of the Founders. The tyranny of mistrust has divided us against ourselves, shoving aside the notion of common purpose. We cannot afford to hate each other, yet that is precisely what today’s tyranny demands.
This new tyranny makes us paranoid. It turns ordinary political discussions into full-blown arguments with friends we’ve known for years. It breeds hysteria, addicting people to perpetual outrage.
It clouds our minds and erases our memories. It causes us to believe that ordinary occurrences, like Supreme Court vacancies, are the end of the world. It gives us amnesia – we can’t remember or accept that perhaps the problems on which we rail existed before the politicians we hate came to power. It makes us believe that all problems are caused by or must be solved by Washington, when the real answers may lie within our own households and communities.
This tyranny brings out the worst in us, hardening hearts in the face of tragedy. When five journalists were gunned down in Maryland, kind sentiments uttered in their memory were met with mocking and misplaced blame from the darkest corners of American tribalism.
This regime nurtures worrisome racial and class tensions. Black citizens live in fear of the people to whom we imbue the awesome responsibility of enforcing our laws, while other citizens wonder how federal agents can hold such a dim view of the president’s supporters. Equal justice cannot exist when those meting it out harbor such biases.
We are abandoning the democratic values that have traditionally bound us together. For some, accosting public servants has replaced voting as the preferred method for expressing displeasure with the government. Others entrusted with powerful communications platforms wistfully wonder about the benefits of dictatorships, their impatience with democracy on stunningly mindless display.
A man once told me “instant coffee ruined the world.” He was right, and today our desire for immediate political gratification slams headlong into the pace at which our democratic institutions operate.
But there’s a reason they move like molasses, and there’s a reason to embrace our historically durable process instead of letting political frustration manifest itself in hateful ways. Running people out of restaurants and putting up “you aren’t welcome” billboards only strengthens today’s tyranny and polarizes us further.
We’ve broken free from tyranny before, and we must do it again. Optimism in our economic future is on the rise, and we have more jobs than people to fill them. Truly, ours is a land of tremendous opportunity. For our children, the possibilities are limitless so long as we do not squander their American inheritance. We can turn this optimism into a fortress against today’s tyranny, if we can pull ourselves together.
We must collectively find the will to trust the outcomes produced by our institutions, and the institutions themselves must acknowledge their own mistakes. Rebuilding trust is a two-way street.
Finally, declaring our independence from this homegrown tyranny means walking in someone else’s shoes. Our Founders mutually pledged to each other “our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor,” even as they squabbled over policy and politics. Today, we simply must pledge our mutual trust, as Americans, to our neighbors, coworkers, and passersby. The Founders hung together in their divinely inspired endeavor, and so should we.
The tyranny of mistrust relies on hard hearts, paranoia and faithlessness. Defeat it by embracing one another on good days and bad. Be good-natured and rejoice that we have the luxury of spending hours arguing politics with each other on social media platforms, instead of spending those hours fetching water for our families.
Debate each other vigorously even as we fight alongside each other in the battle against modern tyranny, but end those debates with a handshake instead of a shaking fist. Believe that political opponents have our nation’s best interests at heart, that journalists earnestly seek the truth, and that public servants go to work for the right reasons. Accept that some will fail, because they are human, but believe that most will not.
Today, we remember those who took the leap of faith 242 years ago. Will we discover their spirit anew by declaring war on the tyranny of mistrust?
For the sake of our Republic, pray the answer is yes.
Scott Jennings is a CNN contributor and partner at RunSwitch Public Relations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @ScottJenningsKY on Twitter.