Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014 | 2:01 a.m.
“In people we trust.”
It has taken me a significant part of my life to understand why that phrase does not adorn the United States’ currency or, for that matter, the important institutions of any government on this planet. People feel comfortable in the United States trusting in God. But trusting in people? Not so much.
That is borne out in poll after poll that asks citizens if they trust their elected leaders, Congress, lawyers and used-car salesmen. Unfortunately, the people have been consistent in their singular lack of trust in those who lead the government. And that attitude does not bode well for the future of democracy in our republic.
That is why I took such heart in New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s press conference Thursday in which he tried to deal with the debacle surrounding his version of the bridge to nowhere. In this case, it was a bridge to somewhere important — Manhattan, during rush hour — from a place that was equally important — Fort Lee, N.J., when workers were on their way home.
The George Washington Bridge is probably the busiest bridge in the world. Taking people from Fort Lee in the morning onto one of the most crowded and productive islands on the planet is its main function, along with getting those same people home at the end of the day.
What is clear now is that people working for Christie ordered a traffic study of the bridge, and that had the effect of turning Fort Lee into a parking lot for many days. People were far more than inconvenienced at the end of the many days of “traffic studying”; they were really upset. They were mad. They didn’t understand why anyone would do something so stupid as to virtually shut down that bridge for a prolonged period of time, for apparently no good reason.
And then they learned why. It was political retribution against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee who didn’t endorse Christie’s re-election effort. So the man so many people say is a bully was apparently caught bullying a political opponent without regard for the thousands of New Jersey and New York residents who paid a ridiculous price because they were on the bridge going nowhere.
That was not good for the man who would be president of the United States. Especially when damning emails were released last week that linked the governor’s office directly to the closing of that bridge.
That is why Christie stood up to face a media grilling for almost two hours Thursday, during which questions were asked dozens of ways probing his knowledge, involvement and culpability in such a stupid act of political retribution.
I watched that press conference. I saw the governor face those difficult questions, and I listened to him answer them in a most direct and apparently honest fashion that was, well, refreshing. I say that because for far too long we have conditioned our politicians to answer difficult questions in the most obtuse and unsatisfying ways possible.
There is always a chance that more evidence may surface showing his culpability, but I doubt that will happen. What Christie did during that press conference was take a small step toward creating a level of trust in government that has not existed for a long time.
He looked the people in the eye and said he had nothing to do with that decision and acted immediately when he learned of his staff’s involvement in the fiasco. Yes, he fired the person who was responsible, a longtime, trusted confidante.
And he also took full responsibility for her actions and the actions of those who acted in his name. He explained that, as governor, he didn’t know everything everyone was doing in his name each and every day of the week but once he learned of their egregious actions, he acted, no matter how personally disappointing and difficult that action was.
In short, Christie acted the way human beings are supposed to act and the way the voters expect their leaders to do their business. I also understand the great sadness of learning about the untrustworthiness of those you trust and the disloyalty of those to whom you are loyal, and I saw that in Christie’s eyes and heard it in his voice.
It was those very personal emotions he exhibited Thursday morning that may give people reason to believe that he was telling the truth. And that is what will cause them to say that they can believe that some political leaders can be trusted.
And that is a start.
Who knows where this will end but, for now, a start is a good thing in a country where trust is a rare commodity.
Brian Greenspun is editor and publisher of the Las Vegas Sun.