Americans No Longer Trust Anything

Our institutions, from politics to healthcare to religion, have failed us. This failure presents an opportunity to create a country that works for everyone.

In February of 2017, Kyrie Irving went on a podcast and told the world that he believed the earth was flat. Ever since, he’s been unable to escape questions and criticism for his beliefs. Kyrie has gone back and forth between reaffirming his beliefs, apologizing for them, and saying it was all a joke. 

Kyrie is part of a growing number of people who are no longer afraid to question anything, including basic, long-accepted scientific principles. Members of this movement are more likely to believe YouTube conspiracy theories than NASA scientists, or Facebook posts over the world’s top doctors.

Sowing the seed of distrust

This anti-authority, sometimes even anti-intellectual, movement exists only because our institutions have failed us. Some of our most trusted professions, historically, have come under increased scrutiny in recent decades, and for good reason. 

Doctors are getting paid to prescribe more opioids. Kickbacks are illegal, but it’s not illegal for doctors to be paid for speaking engagements, lodging, consulting, meals, and more. An analysis by CNN and the Harvard School of Public Health found a strong correlation between opioid prescriptions and payments from pharmaceutical companies that make opioids. While doctors aren’t technically getting paid directly for getting Americans hooked on painkillers, they might as well be. 

Doctors receiving payments from drug companies unquestionably creates conflicts of interest, and unfortunately has become commonplace; in 2015, 48% of all doctors received payments from the drug or medical device industry. Opioids aren’t the only pay-to-prescribe drugs, either. Cancer drugs, blood thinners, and drugs to treat mental health conditions all bring in more money for doctors than opioids, and drugs to treat diabetes and multiple sclerosis each made doctors over $150 million between 2013 and 2015. Would you completely trust your doctor if you knew they were taking money from drug companies and prescribing their drugs more often? Maybe a better question is, “How could you trust your doctor if they did that?”

The medical industry obviously isn't the only corrupt institution in the U.S. Americans’ distrust of the federal government has been shrinking for a long time, and the well-documented corruption of the Trump administration might be the final nail in the coffin. Politics has run on corruption for a long time. Almost all prominent politicians, on the left and right, let corporate money influence their belief system. It is absolutely disgusting to see members of the “progressive” Democratic Party push healthcare industry talking points against Medicare for All.

America’s collective faith in journalism is also on the decline. One of the largest newspapers in the U.S., the Washington Post, is owned by Amazon (shockingly, they tend to cover Amazon more favorably than other news outlets). Sinclair Broadcast Group owns or operates 294 television stations across the United States. Sinclair often mandates its stations air specific segments, using local stations as a tool to promote conservative propaganda. In 1993, 90% of media was owned by 50 companies; today, that same 90% is controlled by just six companies. It’s difficult to trust what we read, hear, and watch when much of it consists of corporate talking points and propaganda designed to manipulate our beliefs in one direction or the other.

Even religious institutions are no longer trustworthy. The Catholic Church is the most prominent example of child sex abuse, but almost all major religions in the U.S. have a history of sexual abuse of minors. Religion is no longer seen as a necessary component of being moral, and younger generations are less likely to say religion is important to teaching their children good values. Many millennials are leaving religion and never looking back, and it’s not difficult to understand why.

Preposterous beliefs

I first heard of the “Flat Earth” theory, as it's called, in 2017 from Kyrie Irving. At first I thought it was insane. How can someone believe the earth is flat and ignore all scientific evidence to the contrary? The growing anti-vaccination movement didn’t make sense either. How could so many Americans ignore the science behind vaccination? Almost every doctor and medical authority will tell you that vaccines are perfectly safe.

Americans can no longer trust their institutions. Not that they don’t want to; it has become almost impossible to believe that American institutions exist to serve the people instead of the other way around. The federal government clearly doesn’t hold the interests of the people above all else. Doctors take money to prescribe drugs that may do us more harm than good. Pastors are abusing innocent young children at an alarming rate. Both traditional and new media outlets are run by the same handful of companies and push the same corporate talking points day in and day out. 

With the realization that we can’t trust our institutions comes a re-evaluation of our beliefs. Yes, our doctors and medical authorities tell us vaccines are safe, but why would we trust them? Yes, everyone in a position of authority agrees that the earth is round, but how can we blindly believe them?

Americans aren’t dumb. These preposterous beliefs that go against all accepted science are entirely the fault of our failing institutions. YouTube conspiracies are seen as more credible than scientists or the government. Facebook posts hold more weight than doctors. I cannot fault Americans for being unable to tell the difference between truth and lies in a world full of misinformation. We are all being deceived at some level, through no fault of our own.

The failing of our institutions is dangerous, but creates an opportunity for new institutions to rise in their place. These new authorities could be bad, and many are. Anti-vaccination authorities are causing unnecessary illness and death. Climate change denial is responsible for the continued destruction of our planet. 

I believe it is possible to create new authorities that have the best interests of society at heart. Substack, the platform I’m using to send you this newsletter, is changing journalism. Writers are getting paid for informing and entertaining the public, instead of getting paid indirectly through corporate sponsorship or advertising. I have no one telling me what I can or can’t write. I’m free to write about what matters to me and what I believe in. I know Substack exists to make money, not for the good of society, but that does not discount the good that Substack is doing for the world of journalism. (On the other hand, Facebook also exists to make money, not to harm society, but that does not discount the immense damage the platform has done to democracy.)

Politics is changing, and with it many of our institutions, such as the healthcare industry, educational institutions, fossil fuel industry, and Wall Street. Progressive politicians realize that younger generations will no longer tolerate a country run by corporate greed and special interest groups. Several of the politicians most popular with younger Americans, like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, refuse to take corporate money. The change that younger generations want is coming, and we can create a country that works for everyone, not just those that are wealthy or white (usually both).

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