During the pandemic, there was a lot of discussion about the use of "trusted voices" to persuade people to get vaccinated against COVID-19. This is apparently a well-known concept in the field of public health because it's often difficult to get people to change behaviors or accept unfamiliar interventions. You'll recall that it was often advised that people speak to their family doctors if they had questions since surveys show that people trust them to tell the truth. Health care organizations also advised outreach to faith leaders, particularly in communities of color, since many "will only trust voices, leaders, and organizations that have consistently served them, and many of those voices are found in their places of worship." Farmers were recruited in rural areas because they know about vaccinations and "herd immunity."
This makes sense. There is a lot of information floating around and it's logical to seek out someone you deem to be credible to help you understand the situation. Unfortunately, there is so little respect for people in public life these days that they have to work very hard to persuade the citizenry that they can be trusted at all. Pew Research did polling on this issue back in 2019 and elected officials were are the very bottom of the list of leadership groups, below business leaders and (gasp) journalists. At that time, pre-pandemic, scientists were at the top of the list but I suspect they have slipped quite a bit since then. In fact, the entire list, which included the military, police, public school principals, religious leaders and college professors, has probably declined since then. Trust is not in great supply in American society at the moment.
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There are many reasons for this and it's been coming on for decades, but the last few years with the mendacious Donald Trump being at the center of our politics has made it exponentially worse. Take, for example, the treatment of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of infectious disease at the National Institute of Health. Formerly one of the most highly respected medical scientists in the world, recipient of countless awards including the presidential medal of freedom, Fauci would once have been seen as a trusted voice to whom the nation turned for leadership when we were hit with the COVID pandemic. For many, he was and still is. But for tens of millions of Americans, he is seen as a mass murderer, based on sheer propaganda.
Trust is not in great supply in American society at the moment.
Here's Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green speaking about Fauci after he announced his retirement this week:
Granted, Green is a far-right provocateur. But she is not alone. Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana, a Republican, among many others, is promising to haul him before GOP tribunals if the Republicans win the November election.
It's all performative nonsense stemming from the right-wing media's insistence on pushing snake oil cures so they could pretend the pandemic was over (to help Donald Trump get re-elected) and Fauci had the temerity to follow the science instead. They have since worked up a massive conspiracy theory that he worked with the Chinese government to create COVID and unleash it on the world, for reasons that remain obscure. The campaign of character assassination against this man is downright horrifying.
For those same people on the right, Donald Trump is considered the ultimate trusted voice and Fox News is just as trusted as Trump. (After all, they were the ones who managed to persuade the Republican base that wearing masks and getting vaccinated were intrusions on people's God-given freedom, even when hundreds of thousands of them were dropping dead.) It's important to understand this as we anticipate how the latest scandalous Trump legal problems might unfold.
One of the most impressive aspects of the January 6 committee hearings earlier this summer was the use of Republican members of Trump's inner circle to tell the story of his attempts to overturn the election and obstruct the peaceful transfer of power. To Trump's adversaries and opponents, these people were a mixed bag that included former Trump loyalists who were compelled to tell the truth about the corrupt boss they had loyally served. And I think it was assumed that for some Trump supporters these people might be seen as trusted voices because of their previous devotion to the Dear Leader. There were staffers and former Cabinet members, some of whom were quite well known as faithful Trump agents, such as former Attorney General William Barr, who could not be portrayed as Democratic dupes, giving evidence that Trump simply refused to accept the truth and went to bizarre lengths to deny it. Surely, people would have to realize that this steadfast coterie must be telling the truth. But they don't. They believe that every last one of them is a liar. No amount of previous fidelity to the party or the cause counts for anything.
Trump knows what he has done and he knows that his closest associates from the White House and now at Mar-a-Lago are cooperating with both his political adversaries and the law
Perhaps the best example of this is Liz Cheney, hardcore conservative to the bone, member of the House leadership and daughter of a GOP icon, who might have been expected to make some Republicans reassess their belief in Donald Trump when she sacrificed her seat and jeopardized her future to speak truth to power. But she is not only not a trusted voice, she is a pariah.
The Washington Post's Greg Sargent pointed out this week that the Mar-a-Lago National Archives scandal is likewise the result of Trump insiders being compelled to tell the truth about his strange behaviors regarding these stolen classified documents. The reporting and evidence show that the FBI has been interviewing witnesses whose revelations helped trigger the subpoenas and search warrant. Trump denies it all, and once again, his followers believe him over all the evidence.
Trump's supporters' stalwart loyalty propels the Republican establishment to go along. They know their voices are only trusted if they conform to what Trump is saying. There is only Trump's word — and his word is law.
But you have to wonder what he's thinking.
The only voice he can trust is the one in his head telling him to keep dancing as fast as he can. It must be exhausting.
Sure, he's gleefully collecting money from the small donors who love to give the billionaire their hard-earned cash. And he's pursuing his usual strategy of flooding the zone with nonsense and staying in the news which he believes is a key to his success. But Trump knows what he has done and he knows that his closest associates from the White House and now at Mar-a-Lago are cooperating with both his political adversaries and the law. In the latter case, he has no idea who they are so everyone must be a suspect, even his own family. The only voice he can trust is the one in his head telling him to keep dancing as fast as he can. It must be exhausting.