One of the dramatic mismatches of American politics existed in the midst of the nation’s greatest upheaval. President Abraham Lincoln could never quite get in sync with his talented general, George B. McClellan.
True, Lincoln had taken to heart the constitutional edict, Article II, Section 2, that the president “shall be Commander in Chief” of the nation’s military, and he exercised a heavy hand in the strategic work of trained military officers.
Also true, according to historians, McClellan once hid at a friend’s house to avoid the input of “browsing presidents.”
Yet McClellan, a man of strong ego who teetered when compelled to act, could not quite bring himself to attack on Lincoln’s schedule, constantly complaining about a lack of human assets.
Lincoln, having given his favored general much latitude, eventually fired McClellan, who in 1864 would become the president’s opponent in the presidential election.
McClellan’s penchant for indulging in politics, even while in uniform, pushed Lincoln to tell a story he loved, that of a horse who reared up and accidentally got a hoof stuck in the saddle’s stirrup. The rider told the horse, “If you are going to get on, I will get off.”
Trust can be grudgingly earned and easily lost. Trust matters in affairs of state and more so in individual transactions.
Lincoln, who trusted McClellan could help him preserve the Union, did not have a bottomless well of confidence to offer during those grim days.
“Trust, but verify” became a widely used phrase and governing concept during the administration of President Ronald Reagan. He employed it when trying to get the Soviet Union to cut back on its stockpile of nuclear weapons.
In many life choices, the “trust, but verify” principle bears up. Any big ticket consumer good comes with a sales pitch; you listen, but then research. The internet has plenty to say on the performance of things and folks. Even doctors get Yelp reviews.
(Religion proves one exception: “We walk by faith, not by sight,” the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians.)
Trust figures prominently in the current pandemic. In fact, trust may determine the way forward as the world lurches to reopen after a period of sheltering.
On this, it seems easy to tag trust, or distrust, on public officials who talk regularly on the coronavirus. President Trump. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Dr. Anthony Fauci. Heavy hitters, many unknown to the broader citizenry just a couple of months ago, now have regular pronouncements on our future.
Doctors usually get better appraisals than politicians. State governors mostly poll better than people in Washington.
Some of the trust extended carries the ideological baggage present before folks ever heard of COVID-19. If your allegiance took you far off in one partisan direction before, it would be a long hike back the other way.
Those of us not medical professionals or scientists, though, must go with gut instincts. We consider what appears to be right.
And with that, trust plays a role in our re-entry to restaurants, to churches, to retailers, to sporting events, to gatherings larger than our immediate families.
Venture out to spaces where few wear protective masks, where the spacing seems iffy. No matter how many armed souls stalk capitol steps and yell about infringed freedoms, you might worry about personal safety, and that of loved ones. The recovery, then, will be a slow one.
Trust is key. The talk of the noisy might taunt you to one behavior or another. But most Americans want to be guided by their own voice when it comes to well-being.