Trust Hillary and Other Politicians? Not An American Tradition

A friend worries that Hillary Clinton could lose the election because she is currently trusted by only a third of voters: 67 percent of voters have doubts about her trustworthiness, according to the NYT. Maybe this is a problem, or maybe it isn’t.

Politicians historically are not trusted, nor should they be, as their job is basically to give you the illusion that they are your friend or ally while balancing your agenda against opposing or contradictory agendas within their coalition. A successful politician delivers at least some of your agenda, and earns the loyalty of disparate groups. An unsuccessful politician gives his or her supporters a feeling of betrayal because he is unable to deliver on their agenda. It’s a transactional relationship.

Presidents in general deliver or keep the promises on about 75 percent of their agenda.

Perceptions of trust of politicians blow with the wind. In 2013 and 2014, a full majority deemed Barack Obama untrustworthy, according to Gallup. The same was true in 2015, according to Fox News. Yet today his “trustworthiness” is well over 50 percent, as is his job approval rating.

Was Nixon trusted in 1972? Hell no. The front-runner to oppose him from November 1970 until the winter of 1972 was Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine, who launched a campaign based on his personal integrity, with buttons declaring that you can “Believe Muskie.” I have some of those “Believe Muskie” buttons stashed away in my attic. So how far did this campaign based on trusting a politician take Muskie? No where. His front-runner status fell apart in the snows of New Hampshire in 1972, and totally collapsed in the sunshine state of Florida.

Hunter Thompson wrote about this in his classic book, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, 1972.

Nixon, who nobody trusted, went on to win a historic landslide against George McGovern, a man trusted by his supporters but deemed clueless about the world by a majority of Americans. The reason? Nixon articulated where middle American were on the issues of the day. In retrospect, Nixon looked like the last of the liberal Republican presidents.

A lesson many Americans have internalized is that when they trust politicians, they are sure to be disappointed. “Question authority” was a watchword of the generation growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, after the Vietnam debacle and during the Watergate scandal, and Americans of all generations have surely internalized that sentiment.

Even those who trusted Obama and thought he was going to be the second coming have been disappointed. A certain degree of skepticism of politicians is healthy. Do I fully trust Hillary? No. Yet I would consider myself a strong supporter this year. I wouldn’t fully trust FDR, Truman, JFK, LBJ, Carter or Clinton either.

And yet when it comes to specific issues, knowledge, especially if they have a track record and a strong constituency, a politician can be trusted. Huffington Post notes that voters overwhelmingly trust Hillary Clinton on the key issues that matter most to them:

Trump trails Clinton in voter trust on each of the issues that typically rank highest in people’s minds when evaluating a presidential candidate ― the economy, immigration, terrorism, national security, foreign policy, social issues and criminal justice, according to a HuffPost aggregation of polling data. Clinton even leads on the topics that Republicans have historically been perceived as better-equipped to handle.

Donald Trump is a pathological liar about most everything. What’s most disturbing is not that he lies from time to time — most presidents do — but that he has so little regard for well-established facts, and seems to be out of touch with reality, knows not and cares so little for the substance of policy.

Clinton’s Fibs Vs. Trump’s Huge Lies, by Nicholas Kristof

In 2013, Hillary was at 60% job approval rating.
Remembering that George H.W. Bush was at 90% approval in 1991 after he “successfully” launched the Gulf War, and that his approval rating then plunged to less that a third of voters at the time of the 1992 election, these things blow with the wind.
Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, by the accounts of those who knew them best, were quite untrustworthy, but still managed to win landslides, and to be credible presidents with high approval ratings for several years, before the lies caught up with them.
Jimmy Carter banked his campaign and his presidency on honesty, integrity and trustworthiness, promising “I’ll never lie to you.” It didn’t see him through one term. I still remember Steven Brill’s disturbing expose from the 1976 campaign, “Jimmy Carter’s pathetic lies.”
The Atlantic Monthly recalls that “from Washington to FDR to Nixon, president have always lied.” Honesty does not necessarily make for an effective president.
The NYT has a podcast on Hillary’s trust problem. Mark Landler, a White House correspondent for The Times, points out that Hillary was strongly trusted by foreign leaders when she was Secretary of State, and was well-trusted by constituents when she was senator from New York. It is when she is a presidential candidate that “trust” becomes more of an issue because she tends to be self-protective on the campaign trail.
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