Jewish World Review Nov. 15, 2001 / 29 Mar-Cheshvan 5762

Clarence Page

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Consumer Reports

Our troubled sense of trust -- OUR reaction to Nov. 12 shows how much the world has changed since Sept. 11.

Once again, we witnessed a sunny, clear blue morning sky interrupted by thick, black smoke and flames, marking a new ground zero of mass fatalities, this time in the New York borough of Queens.

We know the drill by now. We feel suddenly sickened. We reach for the phone to call someone. The stock markets, a measure of our national faith in the future, plunge. Then we wait … on pins and needles … for the second hit!

This time, it didn't come. Officials conclude this crash was probably "just an accident." The stock ticker rises again.

Little signifies how much life has changed in America's new age of terrorism than this odd sense of relief, however guarded, so many of us felt after the news that a jetliner crash as "just an accident."

At least, accidents are something we feel we can do something about. We are a nation of mechanics. We love to get in under the hood and fix the problem. Terrorism is tougher. Where is the manual to show us how to fix this problem?

While we look for it, terrorists have forced us to rearrange our outlook, our society and our national sense of trust.

Trust me on this.

Trust kept us content with flimsy cockpit doors and poorly-paid airport security personnel.

Trust caused us to throw open our borders and allocate almost no money to making sure visitors on student visas were actually taking classes.

Trust caused us to give money to the Red Cross and other charities after a great catastrophe and leave it up to them to decide how they wanted to distribute it.

Trust enabled us to open our mail without worrying about anything more serious than a paper cut.

Those days are gone. Our sense of trust has shifted and the change in attitudes has begun to penetrate some of our country's most cherished rights and beliefs.

After a recent emergency order, for example, we now allow the Justice Department to listen in on the conversations of lawyers with clients in federal custody. These include people who have been detained but not charged with any crime, whenever the government thinks it is necessary to prevent violence or terrorism. Currently, this rule covers about 100 inmates the government thinks might pose a "national security risk."

The order, which Attorney General John D. Ashcroft approved last week, allows the interceptions for up to a year at a time.

It's all part of a series of extraordinary law enforcement measures the government has taken in response to the terrorist threat. Trust has fallen on hard times.

Were we suckers to be so trusting before Sept. 11? Sometimes, maybe. But, more often than not, our trust was rewarded, most recently in the last decade's wildly prosperous economic boom.

Societies thrive on trust. Stock markets rallied when more than half of this country's households trusted the markets enough to invest their nest eggs.

As Francis Fukuyama wrote in his 1995 book, "Trust: The Improbable Power of Culture in the Making of Economic Society," social trust strengthens political, economic and social institutions, which then reward and strengthen more trust. It eases transactions, energizes creativity and encourages collective action.

Indeed, free market societies are high in the trust that allows commerce to be unfettered by central planners. Strong central governments distrust the people, even as they rely on those people for support.

Progress requires risk-taking, which thrives in an atmosphere of trust. The damage of low trust in societies can be long-lasting, as they have found in Russia, where, despite sluggish efforts to create a market economy, you still can't get a mortgage to buy your own home.

Whom do you trust? I am not troubled by the need for stronger cockpit doors, background checks for airport security guards, strict enforcement of immigration laws, accountability from charities or the zapping of my mail with anti-anthrax rays. These are not bad ideas. Some are long overdue.

But we should all be troubled to see fundamental civil liberties drastically restricted. We should be troubled because they show us how much the terrorists have won.

Comment on JWR contributor Clarence Page's column by clicking here.


11/08/01: Lessons about terror from the 'hood
11/06/01: Getting used to the 'new normal'
11/02/01: Wicked ways to make them talk
10/30/01: It's not just about bin Laden
10/26/01: More than mail fell between the cracks
10/23/01: Terrorists threaten urban recovery, too
10/18/01: Sometimes, assassination warranted
10/15/01: Self-censorship rises again
10/12/01: Contradictions illustrate the complicated nature of the new terrorism
10/05/01: Look who's 'profiling' now
10/01/01: Don't trash liberty to save it
09/28/01: Life, love and cell phones during wartime
09/24/01: How to catch an elusive terrorist
09/21/01: The war I was waiting for
09/17/01: When rage turns to hate
09/13/01: Terror attack tests US, let's give right response
09/06/01: U.S. should have stayed and argued
09/04/01: Columbine killer's parents get upclose and personal
08/31/01: Virtual kids? Log me out
08/28/01: Two Africans, one black, one white, same fight
08/23/01: Sharpton for president
08/20/01: Shaking up the rules on keeping secrets
08/16/01: Bush's u-turn on racial goals
08/09/01: Outsider Bubba comes 'in' again
08/06/01: Not ready for 'color-blindness' yet
08/02/01: Immigration timing couldn't be better
07/26/01: Summer of Chandra: An international traveler's perspective
07/17/01: Overthrowing a régime is only the beginning
07/10/01: Big Brother is watching you, fining you
07/05/01: Can blacks be patriotic? Should they be?
06/19/01: Get 'real' about marriage
06/12/01: Amos, Andy and Tony Soprano
06/07/01: Getting tough with the Bush Twins
06/05/01: Bringing marriage back into fashion
05/31/01: "Ken" and "Johnnie": The odd-couple legal team
05/24/01: Sharpton's challenge to Jackson
05/22/01: Test scores equal (a) MERIT? (b) MENACE? (c) ALL OF ABOVE?
05/17/01: Anti-pot politics squeeze the ill
05/15/01: Was Babe Ruth black?
05/10/01: U.N.'s torture caucus slaps Uncle Sam
05/08/01: 'The Sopranos' a reflection of our times
05/03/01: 'Free-fire' zones, then and now
05/01/01: War on drugs misfires against students
04/26/01: Another athlete gets foot-in-mouth disease
04/23/01: 'Slave' boat mystery reveals real tragedy
04/19/01: McVeigh's execution show
04/12/01: Not this time, Jesse
04/05/01: Dubya is DEFINITELY his own man, you fools!
04/02/01: Milking MLK
03/29/01: The candidate who censored himself?
03/22/01: "Will Hispanics elbow blacks out of the way as the nation's most prominent minority group?"
03/19/01: Blacks and the SATs
03/15/01: The census: How much race still matters in the everyday life of America
03/12/01: Jesse is a victim!
03/08/01: Saving kids from becoming killers
03/01/01: Parents owe "Puffy" and Eminem our thanks

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