In “The Avalanche of Distrust” Bobo tells us that Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and much of society isolate themselves. Right, Bobo… Both sides do it, don’t they? “Gemli” from Boston will have something to say about this. Mr. Cohen, in “Fail Better, America, on this 9/11 Anniversary,” tells us not to believe in American disunity, and to lift our gazes beyond Yeats’ “weasels fighting in a hole.” Here’s Bobo:
I’m beginning to think this whole sordid campaign is being blown along by an acrid gust of distrust. The two main candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, are remarkably distrustful. They have set the modern standards for withholding information — his not releasing tax and health records, her not holding regular news conferences or quickly disclosing her pneumonia diagnosis. Both have a problem with spontaneous, reciprocal communication with a hint of vulnerability.
Both ultimately hew to a distrustful, stark, combative, zero-sum view of life — the idea that making it in this world is an unforgiving slog and that, given other people’s selfish natures, vulnerability is dangerous.
Trump’s convention speech was the perfect embodiment of the politics of distrust. American families, he argued, are under threat from foreigners who are as violent and menacing as they are insidious. Clinton’s “Basket of Deplorables” riff comes from the same spiritual place. We have in our country, she jibed, millions of bigots, racists, xenophobes and haters — people who are so blackhearted that they are, as she put it, “irredeemable.”
The parishioners at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C., felt that even the man who murdered their close friends was redeemable, but Clinton has written off vast chunks of her fellow citizens as beyond hope and redemption.
But these nominees didn’t emerge in a vacuum. Distrustful politicians were nominated by an increasingly distrustful nation. A generation ago about half of all Americans felt they could trust the people around them, but now less than a third think other people are trustworthy.
Young people are the most distrustful of all; only about 19 percent of millennials believe other people can be trusted. But across all age groups there is a rising culture of paranoia and conspiracy-mongering. We set out a decade ago to democratize the Middle East, but we’ve ended up Middle Easternizing our democracy.
The true thing about distrust, in politics and in life generally, is that it is self-destructive. Distrustful people end up isolating themselves, alienating others and corroding their inner natures.
Over the past few decades, the decline in social trust has correlated to an epidemic of loneliness. In 1985, 10 percent of Americans said they had no close friend with whom they could discuss important matters. By 2004, 25 percent had no such friend.
When you refuse to lay yourself before others, others won’t lay themselves before you. An AARP studyof Americans aged 45 and up found that 35 percent suffer from chronic loneliness, compared with 20 percent in a similar survey a decade ago.Suicide rates, which closely correlate with loneliness, have been spiking since 1999. The culture of distrust isn’t the only isolating factor, but it plays a role.
The rise of distrust correlates with a decline in community bonds and a surge of unmerited cynicism. Only 31 percent of millennials say there is a great deal of difference between the two political parties. Only 52 percent of adults say they are extremely proud to be Americans, down from 70 percent in 2003.
The rise of distrust has corroded intimacy. When you go on social media you see people who long for friendship. People are posting and liking private photos on public places like Snapchat and Facebook.
But the pervasive atmosphere of distrust undermines actual intimacy, which involves progressive self-disclosure, vulnerability, emotional risk and spontaneous and unpredictable face-to-face conversations.
Instead, what you see in social media is often the illusion of intimacy. The sharing is tightly curated — in a way carefully designed to mitigate unpredictability, danger, vulnerability and actual intimacy. There is, asStephen Marche once put it, “a phony nonchalance.” It’s possible to have weeks of affirming online banter without ever doing a trust-fall into another’s arms.
As Garry Shandling once joked, “My friends tell me I have an intimacy problem, but they don’t really know me.”
Distrust leads to these self-reinforcing spirals. As Alex Tabarrok of George Mason University observed recently, in distrustful societies parents are less likely to teach their children about tolerance and respect for others. More distrust leads to tighter regulations, which leads to slower growth, which leads to sour mentalities and more distrust.
Furthermore, fear is the great enemy of intimacy. But the loss of intimacy makes society more isolated. Isolation leads to more fear. More fear leads to fear-mongering leaders. And before long you wind up in this death spiral.
The great religions and the wisest political philosophies have always counseled going the other way. They’ve always advised that real strength is found in comradeship, and there’s no possibility of that if you are building walls. They have generally championed the paradoxical leap — that even in the midst of an avalanche of calumny, somebody’s got to greet distrust with vulnerability, skepticism with innocence, cynicism with faith and hostility with affection.
Our candidates aren’t doing it, but that really is the realistic path to strength.
And Bobo gets paid vast, rolling tracts of cash to produce stuff like that… Here’s what “gemli” had to say to him:
Barack Obama had the audacity to run on a platform of hope and change, yet he was savaged by a Republican Party that accused him of lying about every detail of his life. They showed their trust by demanding his birth certificate and his college transcripts. They accused him of being an anti-colonial Muslim foreigner. They stonewalled his every initiative, and when they weren’t shutting down the government they were making it a dysfunctional mess.
Women’s rights are under attack and fundamentalism is on the rise. LGBT citizens are being refused service, if not at lunch counters, at bakeries. Young people see a future of low salaries, usurious student loans and rising sea levels, all engineered by Republicans that make up in greed what they lack in compassion and common sense.
Yet in this glare of hatred, accusation, disdain, institutionalized ignorance and utter lack of cooperation, David Brooks turns the spotlight on us. Somehow, all 330 million Americans have decided to become distrustful. Whatever could the reason be?
Brooks tries to make Democrats and Republicans equally to blame. The disjointed ravings of an unqualified buffoon are the same as Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server. Her pointed honesty about a large swathe of Trump supporters is read as distrust, because Brooks must drag Clinton down to Trump’s level. If there’s no real equivalence, Brooks will draw a false one.
That’s trust, Republican style.”
Now here’s Mr. Cohen:
Joe Quinn is speaking. His brother Jimmy died on 9/11. The sun is shining from a clear sky, as it was that day. I am on the treadmill listening to music, watching images of the memorial service on the 15th anniversary of the attack on America. I pull the headphone plug out of my iPod and insert it in the treadmill jack.
The voice is strong. After his brother’s death Quinn was inspired to serve, doing tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He recalls the national unity that followed the loss of 2,977 lives in the 9/11 attacks, 2,753 of them at New York’s twin towers, and notes the disunity that seems to have become the American condition since then.
“Don’t believe it,” Quinn says.
No, don’t believe it. Suspend all doubt and rancor. Of the 2,753 victims in New York, no identifying trace of 1,113 was ever found, according to the medical examiner’s office. If it has been required of so many to make their peace with such absence, it behooves us all to lift our gazes beyond Yeats’ “weasels fighting in a hole.”
Don’t believe in American disunity. Believe in the daily fashioning and refashioning of America, its constant reinvention and its high idealism, believe that, as Lincoln said, “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth” — and recall the onerous sacrifice over generations for that cause.
There are always politicians who, as the German Social Democrat Kurt Schumacher noted in a speech to the Reichstag in Berlin in 1932, make “a continuous appeal to the inner swine” of people by “ceaselessly mobilizing human stupidity.” Fear is the fertile soil in which such appeals propagate. The past year in the United States has demonstrated that. Resist fear. It is a distorting lens.
Some people jumped from the burning towers. I see them still. The choices we face may seem difficult. They are not.
Fifteen years. Time does not fly. Time eddies, accelerates, slows down and turns back on itself. A sob wells up in me as I watch Quinn.
I am staring again, a couple of days after the attack, at a photograph of a pregnant woman’s ultrasound tacked to a subway wall: “Looking for the father of this child.”
There are a lot of children aged 14-and-a-half who love but never saw their dads.
The commemoration service proceeds through name after name that evoke every corner of the earth, every creed. People who tried to get out of the towers and people who went into the towers to help them. A New Yorker is born every day from the acceptance this city offers.
Now I am back on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, near the East River, just before 9:00 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, having dropped my son at school. I am driving, stopped at a traffic light, and a guy on a motorbike leans over and says, “Hey, look, the World Trade Center is on fire.”
Smoke billows from the north tower. As I turn right toward Brooklyn Heights, where my family is in a temporary apartment having just moved from Berlin, I feel a boom and shudder as United Airlines Flight 175 from Boston crashes into the south tower at 9:03 a.m.
It is my daughter Adele’s fourth birthday (“Dad,” she will say years later, “my birthday’s famous but I’m not.”). It is my third week back in the United States. It is my first day in a new job as foreign editor.
I board a No. 2 subway headed for Times Square. All bridges and tunnels into Manhattan are closed at 9:21 AM; this must have been the last train to run. A woman beside me is crying. I try to console her. She believes her brother is in one of the towers. I reach my desk in time to see the south tower collapse at 9:59 a.m.
There follows the alchemy of newspapering, diverse talents fusing under pressure, to make that headline — “U.S. Attacked” — and that remarkable paper of Sept. 12 with its lead story by my colleague Serge Schmemann:
“Hijackers rammed jetliners into each of New York’s World Trade Center towers yesterday, toppling both in a hellish storm of ash, glass, smoke and leaping victims, while a third jetliner crashed into the Pentagon in Virginia.”
I emerged late that evening onto Times Square. There was nobody. Not a soul. I started to walk beneath the neon signs.
“Put one foot in front of the other,” says Quinn. Turn off your TV. Power down your phone, say hi to your neighbor, and introduce yourself to a stranger. Connect. Be the unity you seek.
The fires burned for weeks. The acrid sweet smell below Houston Street persisted. Papers from the towers fluttered across the East River toward Brooklyn. I picked one up and found on it — or did I imagine them? — these lines from Samuel Beckett: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”