- The Washington Times - Friday, November 16, 2001

Our reaction to Nov. 12 shows how much the world has changed since September 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 September 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.

Clarence Page is a nationally syndicated columnist.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide