WHAT IS HAPPENING to our country? If you have asked this question, you are likely not alone. As America has grown more secular and polarized, its moral compass has become harder to tune to a true North, with no particular voice emerging as a moral authority.

Fifty years ago, polls showed that 62% of Americans trusted the government all or most of the time, according to Pew Research Center.

A recent Pew survey found that only 18% trust government all or most of the time, and about half of Democrats and Republicans say the other party makes them afraid. We have become tribal.

Barbara Perry, a presidential historian at the University of Virginia, said “We have become more skeptical and cynical about authority generally, and about presidents specifically. With the 2016 election, Donald Trump removed a moral standard for becoming president.”

“Research shows we want people who do good things to also be good people,” said David Pizarro, a Cornell University professor who studies moral reasoning. “But moral character and moral effectiveness do not always align.”

We now have identity politics. We gravitate to like-minded people. There is no shortage of news organizations who pander to their base, and that feeds the discourse and hysteria that divides us. We allow this animosity to fester.

Ted Van Dyk, a Democrat active in national policy and politics for 40 years, faulted his party’s national leadership for labeling Republicans as white supremacists, religious nuts, misogynists, bigots and minority-haters.

Van Dyk chastised his fellow Democrat leaders and pundits who spend every waking moment trying to prove what people, Republican and Democrat, already know. We already know President Trump is crude, a bully, an egotist, an arrogant braggart, liar and blowhard.

Yet Trump-haters keep searching for that one thing more that will finally be the last straw. What can be worse than what we already know? Wouldn’t time be better spent working to mount a candidate and campaign to defeat the president in 2020?

Because of this unending rancor, Americans have ceased to trust their institutions, observed Crispin Sartwell, teacher of philosophy at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa. He said trust has to be earned and power should be approached with great skepticism.

The basic problem isn’t that people don’t trust institutions, but that the institutions aren’t always trustworthy. It is then only rational to apportion one’s trust accordingly.

Sartwell said it makes sense to point to the role of social media in these crazy times. In the relentless pursuit of salacious details as click bait, social media has contributed to the decline of trust.

Institutions have the financial resources to develop public-relations strategies that massage the truth, put a favorable spin on unsavory stories in an effort to sway public opinion. We are easily deceived by well-trained operatives.

The mystique around a charismatic leader, an agency like the FBI, a corporation like DreamWorks or a church and its bishops is an invitation to corruption, said Sartwell.



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DEMOCRATS MIGHT have up to 30 men and women testing the waters as potential candidates for president in 2020. Anyone thinking the 2018 midterm elections settled anything will be disappointed. You haven’t seen anything yet.

While we watch Washington burn, the prospective candidates will be offering all kinds of solutions to our problems. We will be promised free health care, free college, massive infrastructure programs, a strong military, welfare for all, income equality, an end to racism, more socialism, higher taxes, higher incomes, lower taxes, a plan to solve climate change, world peace and a balanced federal budget.

Toward that goal, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who is one of those with presidential aspirations, plans to introduce a bill in Congress that he believes will help reduce wealth inequality.

Some people will find his “baby bonds” idea to be visionary, while others will declare it dead on arrival. You be the judge.

Booker’s plan would give everyone born in the United States $1,000 when they are born, basically a bond. Each person would be given more money every year as they get older, until about age 18.

Booker said black and Latino children would be given up to $2,000 each year, depending on family income. He said white children would get much less, assuming their families have a higher household income.

Depending on family income and resources, many children may only receive $500 per year to be added to their account. The idea is to help needy children, not to feather the nests of the wealthy. By the time these young people are 18 years old, Booker said, their initial bond account will have grown $15,000 to $50,000.

Booker believes this plan would create wealth for more Americans with a focus on traditionally poor black and Latino folks. He said his plan will level the playing field as they begin their young adult phases.

There will be no shortage of creative ideas. The trick is paying for them and doing the administration. Maybe we can put it on the honor system?