Why Most Americans No Longer Trust “The Other Guy”

The vast majority of Americans now believe that most people cannot be trusted. Not merely politicians or politically connected businesses, but most people period.

According to a new AP poll, only one-third of Americans say they believe that most people can be trusted. Back in 1972, half of Americans believed this, when the same question was asked. The trust situation was already pretty bad back in 1972, and is very bad today.

An interesting follow-up question would be: “Do you find, in your experience in daily life, that most people can or cannot be trusted?”

I have a hunch that more than a mere third of the population, if asked, would say, “I find that most people I encounter mean well and can be trusted.” It’s just a hunch. But if correct, then there’s a disconnect between how most Americans view people “in general” versus how they view actual people they encounter in their everyday lives.

“People who believe the world is a good place and it’s going to get better and you can help make it better, they will be trusting,” said University of Maryland professor Eric Uslaner. “If you believe it’s dark and driven by outside forces you can’t control, you will be a mistruster.”

Professor Uslaner is inching his way to the truth. Trust is directly connected to your own sense of whether it’s a benevolent, or malevolent, universe.

Your underlying assumptions about the human mind, and human nature, will determine your own attitudes about people in general, as well as yourself.

If you think that the human mind is efficacious, and you give credit to the human mind for all that has happened in the world that’s good, then you will possess a much more benevolent and trusting attitude about people in general.

If you think that human nature is inherently corrupt, and that the human mind really isn’t capable of discovering or improving the quality of human life all that much, at least not without coercion or neurotic guilt, then you’ll consequently develop a much more malevolent and mistrusting attitude about people.

There are basically two sets of viewpoints influencing most people in America today. You might call them the “red state” (Republican) or “blue state” (Democratic) mentalities, although it’s far deeper than politics.

The red state mentality refers to traditional religion. Traditional religion teaches that man is basically depraved (or “fallen”) by nature. Only God can restore man’s goodness. Man does this by being selfless and self-sacrificial, particularly to family members. Reward for this selflessness will come in the afterlife.

The red state mentality leads people to look around America and think, “Most people here are pursuing their own interests. That’s not Godly. Particularly when people spend too much money, or God forbid if they enjoy sex, it’s selfish and bad.”

No wonder the red state mentality leads to mistrust of fellow citizens. The self-interested, earthly pursuit of happiness prevalent in America clashes with the prevailing belief that sacrifice of self to family and community is what makes one trustworthy.

The blue state mentality refers to the prevailing view in Washington DC, academia and most of affluent, educated culture. While it largely eschews traditional religion in favor of contemporary attitudes about sex and other matters, at root its condemnation of self-interest is apparent.

Pick out any Obama speech at random, where he openly states that man is his brother’s keeper, and you might as well be listening to an old-time preacher in the Puritanical era.

From the blue state or leftist perspective, God is replaced with Government. Government is the means to contain man’s inherent (and evil) self-interest, in favor of forcing man to live for the sake of community and what are deemed larger social interests.

The methods and specific attitudes of the blue state people are quite different, but their ultimate goal is the same. Their view of human beings, at the core, is the same as the red state people. Man is evil by nature, and only some external power (God to the red staters, Government to the blue staters) can reform him.

It’s no wonder so many Americans distrust each other. It’s no wonder compromise is no longer possible, politically, even though a majority of people probably do find significant others in their personal/work lives reasonably trustworthy.

Your fundamental view of man, and existence, determines your basic attitude of trust (or lack thereof) towards your fellow men. And everyone has a fundamental view of this kind.