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An d American Income I .ife Insurance Company Paid Advertisement BERNARD RAPOPORT Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer EXECUTIVE OFFICES: P.O. BOX 2608 WACO, TEXAS 76797 817-772-3050 MORE ON TRUST, AND HATE, AND DISILLUSIONMENT BY JIM WRIGHT The voice on the other end of the line was modulated, the manner polite. “Just wondering what caused you to write that column,” my caller said. She referred to a piece I’d written about various alienated groups united only in their hatred of our governin her California newspaper. The woman was obviously intelligent. By her own lights, patriotic, a member of a military reserve unit. She believes almost everyone in America’s civil government is corrupt and engaged, either knowingly or unwittingly, in a dark conspiracy to cover up a multitude of crimes. A large group of military personnel with whom she meets regularly feels the same way, she says. One of this California woman’s pet peeves is the naturalization of immigrants, particularly those from Mexico. She is convinced that to great numbers of Mexicans, ignoring required tests so long as the new citizens promise to vote for President Clinton and the Democrats. Any such scheme, I assured her, would be an egregious violation of our laws and punishable. I urged her to take the proof she claims to have to a U.S. District Attorney or to any member of Congress for investigation. Any such people, she felt certain, would be involved in the massive coverup. The average citizen, this lady insists, is powerless to do anything. Assuring her I know several California Republican Congressmen who’d eagerly pursue any credible evidence of such fraud, I suggested she take it to someone she’d trusted enough to vote for. “Voting doesn’t do any good,” the lady asserted. All her friends in the military, she indicated, have despaired of influencing anything through the ballot box, the whole election process being dominated, as she believes, by big foreign campaign contributors. This is not the only reader from whom I heard following that column. Some were angrier, meaner. There seems to be a loose cult of people who exchange horror stories, weaving them together as threads of a common mythology, reinforcing one another’s anti-government biases. No claim of wrong-doing, however improbable, seems to strain their credulity so long as it portrays our government as the villain. Another of the myths currently in circulation among anti-government cultists is a claim, recited to me in response to that same column, that the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was not the brainchild of Timothy McVeigh whom the jury found guilty, but rather a fiendish conspiracy of our government itself. And why would American officialdom want to destroy that building and the lives of so many faithful employees? Well, accord ing to the little network of underground conspiracy theorists, that building contained some damning medical records that proved our government knowingly administered harmful drugs to servicemen in the Persian Gulf War. There are regional variations to some of these themes. Anti-Mexican fears, for example, are most strident in California. But three or four basic opinions characterize many of the alienated ones from whom I’m hearing. They hate the government; they love guns; they mistrust elected officials; many despise President Bill Clinton. What’s bewildering is their eagerness to believe the most improbable theories and to promote the most irrational conspiracy scenarios to further their view that our government is just almost irredeemably bad. For all its faults, it’s not that bad. And there are some decent, honorable, hardworking people in it The American government is a reflection of the American people, our frailties and our strengths. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising for such people to conclude that voting is a fruitless exercise. For some, it is more satisfying just to hate. That’s sad. It’s unhealthy for them and for society. There are others, toonot haters nor conspiracy theoristswho’ve been turned off by the proliferation of big campaign contributions and the increasing reliance of candidates upon mega-contributors. A reader in Arizona writes: “There is no trust in government because voters are no longer represented in Washington. Only big money.” That opinion is understandable, when we see a few really huge contributors buying special access to lawmakers, and then see Congress voting big tax cuts that favor mostly the wealthiest at the expense of the middle-income taxpayers. That dismal view is reinforced each time a politically active American corporation closes a functioning factory, laying off skilled workers, to reopen operations in China or Burma where it can employ children, or prisoners, at inhumanly low wages. Sure, unemployment is at an historic low in our country. But the median wages won’t buy what they did fifteen years ago. This is the stuff that feeds discontent, and breeds an ugly xenophobia. A reader in Ohio writes that he wants desperately to revive his lagging trust in the American political system he knew as a boy. He implores me to direct my plea for trust to those in Congress. “Tell them they need to rebuild our trust in government.” Fair enough. Only Congress can reform the scandalously moneydriven system of campaign financing. There’s no better place to start if rebuilding confidence is our aim. Reign in dependence on big money. Make voters equal again. Restore the ballot, not the campaign check, as the basic coin of the realm. At least it would be a start. 18 THE TEXAS OBSERVER AUGUST 29, 1997