Trust me.


Just finished reading a great book by Sheila Suess Kennedy called “Distrust American Style” (full disclosure: The author is well known to readers of this blog and to me as “Mom”). In it, Kennedy discusses widely held beliefs and recent studies that seem to show that increasing amounts of diversity within a culture are correlated with increasing amounts of distrust within that culture or those communities. As correlation is not causation, Kennedy clearly lays out a case for the causes of that distrust. Ultimately that distrust comes from a lack of trust in our collective institutions, caused by years of abuses of power and ineptitude within those institutions. Kennedy sees the lack of trust as a logical and self protective result of these abuses, and argues powerfully for ways to restore that trust. Especially fascinating are the sections that deal with the founding of this nation, and the attempts to limit the power and potential for abuses by government by carefully constructed checks and balances. Kennedy discusses at length how these arose from the Enlightenment and how they were an effort (having just broken free of a monarchy) to limit the power of the state over free citizens. By carefully insuring that no one branch had absolute power, the Founders were hoping to insulate the populace as much as possible from the abuses of potentially flawed or power hungry office holders. That is why the shift of power during the Bush years to the Executive Branch was so corrosive to trust in our governing institutions. These shifts allowed power and lawlessness to be concentrated at the highest levels, and led to serious abuses. It is for precisely this reason that even though I love most of what president Obama is doing in office, the one area that concerns me is in his administration’s defense of some of the executive privileges claimed by the Bush administration. It matters not who wields this power, it should be curtailed to prevent abuse by anyone. Kennedy understands that in order to trust in our governing institutions and the power they wield, we have to be able to trust in their basic fairness and application. Her proposals (at the end of the book) for improving this trust are sensible and in my opinion, necessary.

And on a personal note: Good job, Mom! agenda goes poof


I have been following with some interest the presidential transition website. I think it is a great idea to tell the public what is happening, and give them information about where the incoming Obama administration wants to take the country. I don’t remember another administration doing this before, and I think it makes a lot of good sense. A few days ago I was perusing the agenda section, which had a drop down menu of the many areas the administration will be focusing on in the coming months. There were a large array of topics from “economy” to “civil rights” to “defense” to “education”, etc. If my memory serves, there were probably about 20 to 30 topics, each with its own page highlighting the priorities.

I say “if my memory serves”, because all of that has been replaced by two short paragraphs of boilerplate generalities. I should mention here that in my grief over Proposition 8 passing, I was a little upset to see nothing in these priorities that said anything about repealing DOMA, a oft-repeated promise during the campaign. Using the “Submit your ideas” feedback form on the site (which has since been modified and moved as well), I sent a brief note asking if this would soon be included in the priorities. I said that I understood that there are much more pressing matters to attend to, but that I hoped we would be at least on the agenda.

I must not have been the only citizen rooting about in the agenda, and apparently the Obama administration (or whoever is running the website) got a little nervous and decided it was better to say too little rather than too much. I personally feel this is a mistake and a step backwards, especially after the last 8 years of intense administration secretiveness. Transparency is better, and we deserve that from our government.

I will give the Obama administration the benefit of the doubt for now, as I worked very hard for his election and overall I am thrilled with the direction in which he wants to take the country. But we should all keep in mind how important it is to hold our government accountable for its actions, and to raise our voices to make sure that issues are addressed fairly and openly.