All of us who live here know why it sank without a trace: It was too expensive, it appeared to have been proposed because proper maintenance on the district’s school buildings had been neglected for years, there was a rumor that a prominent school official might benefit financially if it was approved … If it hadn’t been for bad luck, the school referendum and its supporters wouldn’t have had any at all.
But how many of us have thought about this massive rejection in the light of how things have been going in the entire U.S. for a number of years now? It’s my opinion that, while the rejection of the bond issue was certainly justified, it was just part of a larger trend that has been growing: Americans no longer trust their government, and that often extends clear down to the local level.
Oh, there have always been partisan politics in America, just as in any republic. It started with Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, and it hasn’t stopped yet. Trust among the states became so frayed over time in the 19th Century that the nation wound up in a Civil War. Later, there was almost another explosion when Democrats insisted that political chicanery had put Rutherford B. Hayes into the White House instead of Samuel B. Tilden, who beat Hayes in the popular vote. “Rutherfraud,” they called him for his entire (single) term in office.
In the 20th Century, things began to get better — at least there was more of a consensus developing — after Theodore Roosevelt led a battle against the “trusts,” Woodrow Wilson “kept us out of war” (and then got us into World War I one month after his second inauguration), and Warren Harding told us we were back to “normalcy.” Enter the Great Depression, and Franklin Roosevelt, and through the 1930s a sizeable majority of Americans — who were hurting, obviously — backed him enthusiastically, right on into the 1940s and World War II. Americans were probably never so united as they were in 1945 when the war was won and it was obvious that the United States was the premier nation in the world.
It’s my belief that this consensus started to fall apart during the Korean War, which became steadily more unpopular as it dragged on and on. It was a factor in President Harry S. Truman’s not seeking re-election. Things seemed to get better again under his successor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, elected and re-elected by comfortable margins. And then came John F. Kennedy, he of Camelot and the beautiful wife and the good looks and articulate tongue. He was widely popular, was JFK, and when a crazed young man killed him in Dallas, the entire nation mourned. Admired in life, revered in death.
But then, his vice president, Lyndon B. Johnson, took over, and things began to unravel again. Before you can say, “no second term,” Johnson had involved us in the Vietnam War — a quagmire which got deeper and deeper as Johnson became more and more unpopular, and more and more body bags were flown back to the U.S. He wound up with what the press started calling a “credibility gap.” People no longer believed anything he said. And it hasn’t closed, except briefly, since then. It’s become more like the Grand Canyon.
Richard M. Nixon was next — “Tricky Dick,” as his detractors called him. He actually didn’t do a bad job as president — until his cover-up of the Watergate break-in led to his being forced to resign. The American people felt let down — yet again — even though Gerald Ford, his vice president, told us on his first day in office that, “Our great national nightmare is over.” But Ford was there because Nixon’s original vice president, Spiro T. Agnew, had been forced to resign after evidence surfaced that he had accepted bribes — lots of bribes — while governor of Maryland. Anything any of those people had said about “Trust me” had become a sick joke in the minds of Americans.
Jimmy Carter told us, “I’ll never lie to you.” And maybe he didn’t — much. But four years showed his incompetence as president — especially after 52 Americans were seized as hostages by Iranian militants, and an attempted rescue squad sent by Carter, fizzled out in the desert, due to failures of both helicopter engines, and will. That, and high gas prices, and a sluggish economy, drove the public’s trust in Carter lower than the roots of his peanuts.
Enter Ronald Reagan, whose first term (and courageous recovery from an attempted assassination), plus a robust economic rebound from the Carter years, raised public confidence in him very high, sailed in to a 49-state re-election, with high trust ratings. Unfortunately for him — and the country — the Iran/Contra scandal and other issues soiled his second term. George H.W. Bush won a term of his own easily, mostly on the momentum of Reagan’s earlier years, but then fell afoul of public believeability with his “Read my lips — no new taxes” pledge in his inaugural address.
Bill Clinton was the beneficiary of Bush’s unwise pledge, and a (temporarily) sagging economy. Actually, confidence in the government revived considerably during his eight years in office, boosted by a return to the prosperity of the Reagan years, and no wars. But the 1998 revelation of Clinton’s inability to keep his trousers zipped, led to the passage of articles of impeachment by the House. They were rejected by the Senate, but many Americans of the more innocent sort were shocked, SHOCKED, that a president of the United States would act like a 20-ish horn dog.
George W. Bush was a likeable sort, and his response to the 9/11 attacks impressed most Americans as just what was needed. But his initiation of a war with Iraq two years later (the weapons of mass destruction he said were housed there were never found) was not nearly as popular. The attack on Muslim radicals in Afghanistan was supported more heavily, as they were seen as the initiators of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. But as both wars dragged on and on, and the economy sagged, then tanked in late 2007, Bush’s approval numbers tanked right along with it.
Which brings us up to date, with Barack Obama, our “first black president,” the idol of the mainstream news media, non-White voters, and college professors. Obama is probably the finest orator that we’ve had in the Oval Office since John F. Kennedy. But his talents appear to stop at the end of his speeches. Distrust of him for a large number of reasons, including the slumping economy which hasn’t improved much despite all his bloviating, plus disgust with a Congress which seems unable to get anything done except squabbling, and which passed the unpopular, totally partisan Obamacare plan, has increased the public’s lack of trust in Washington, exponentially.
And lack of trust of ANY government, right down to City Hall. Voters are tired of being lectured. They’re tired of being told that passing costly bond issues; or watching their kids be bused, at the fiat of some federal judge, away from their neighborhood schools for “purposes of racial balance;” or government-run health care; or court-imposed overturning of “traditional marriage” referenda which had passed with healthy margins in many states — they’re being tired of being told by their “betters,” by the “leading citizens” in their town, state or nation, that these are the things that are “the right thing to do;” that opposing them makes you “narrow and provincial,” or “racist,” or “homophobic.” And they’re also fed up with politicians who get elected to Congress as young men or women, and are still there, jowly, gray-haired duffers, 40 years later. How about some term limits?!
Many, many American voters are now saying, “The hell it does! I’m expressing my opinion, and I’ve got just as much right to it as you big shots!” In a word, you might say that voters are “Mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it any more!”