America’s Confidence Problem

Published: March 22, 2022

By Jim Lichtman
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In a national address to the country, Jimmy Carter described how he “invited to Camp David people from almost every segment of our society — business and labor, teachers and preachers, governors, mayors, and private citizens. And then I left Camp David to listen to other Americans, men and women like you. I got a lot of personal advice:

“I feel so far from government. I feel like ordinary people are excluded from political power.”

“Don’t talk to us about politics or the mechanics of government, but about an understanding of our common good.”

It’s time to state the obvious. America has a confidence problem.

We don’t have confidence in our leaders, our institutions or each other.

A 2019 Pew Research poll found “Two-thirds of adults think other Americans have little or no confidence in the federal government. Majorities believe the public’s confidence in the U.S. government and in each other is shrinking, and most believe a shortage of trust in government and in other citizens makes it harder to solve some of the nation’s key problems.

“As a result, many think it is necessary to clean up the trust environment: 68 percent say it is very important to repair the public’s level of confidence in the federal government, and 58 percent say the same about improving confidence in fellow Americans.”

And distrust in the Supreme Court has once again taken center stage at the Senate confirmation hearing of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.

In an opening statement, Jackson said, “I have been a judge for nearly a decade now, and I take that responsibility, and my duty to be independent, very seriously. I decide cases from a neutral posture,” she added. “I evaluate the facts, and I interpret and apply the law to the facts of the case before me without fear or favor, consistent with my judicial oath. I know that my role as a judge is a limited one.”

What has in the past been an examination of the character and qualifications of a jurist, has become a litany of speeches addressing past grievances by the opposition.

In a nod to the charges of sexual assault by Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Texas Senator Ted Cruz said, “No one is going to inquire into your teenage dating habits.”

“None of us are going to do that to you,” Lindsay Graham of South Carolina added.

A 2021 Gallup poll revealed that Congress has just 12 percent of America’s confidence.

If our nation’s leadership were a baseball team, the team would be scrapped or sold to George Steinbrenner, if he were alive, who would simply buy better players.

Unfortunately, the only way we can get a better Congress is for all of us to elect qualified individuals. It’s ironic to watch the highly qualified Judge Johnson—who was approved three previous times by the Senate—grilled by many who are less qualified in their own positions.

Nonetheless, after all the soap opera theatrics, Jackson is likely to secure her position on the high court. But the confirmation hearings are an example of how far the country’s optimism has fallen. The hearings are less about trust and confidence in qualifications and more about political one-upsmanship that only heightens the divide in the country.

How do we get past this sickening state?

“If we hope to re-establish our strength, confidence, and balance as a nation,” Mario Cuomo observed, “we need to help one another see that our self-interest is not identical with our selfish interests, that self-interest is inextricably linked to the common good.

“We need to understand that apart from the morality of recognizing an obligation to our brothers and sisters, common sense by itself should teach us that we are all in this thing together, interconnected and interdependent.”

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