The Politics of Trust

The Brexit, now affirmed by referendum, was about trust. Issues of immigration, terrorism, and gun control are trust issues. Trust is a very tricky thing.

How can we trust immigrants to be positive additions to our countries? How many can we afford to misplace trust in before it is our undoing? It’s the same question as how the hell can we trust someone with a dangerous weapon they could use to harm us.

The Democrats wonder why we trust people to buy guns when we don’t trust them to fly on airplanes. The Republicans counter that we can’t trust the government to make those decisions without due process.

The Brexiters don’t believe they can trust their country to retain its character in the face of both European and other immigration. They voted to leave behind their associates on the Continent because they do not trust them. In turn, Scotland and Northern Ireland will undoubtedly attempt to leave the UK, because they feel betrayed by a country they thought was smarter than to abandon the union.

The United States has a system of government built upon the idea that trust is hard. Rather than trusting one authority, the Constitution spreads power among three branches, to protect against the abuse of power. And ever since, we’ve sought to improve our ability to create institutions that can be operated without relying too much on blind trust.

But, again, the problem with guns and immigration is that they’re the same issue talking past itself. How can we trust the individual, be they a refugee of war or someone seeking to buy a weapon?

The Democrat’s answer is that we can’t trust either one blindly. Trust, but verify, they say. Background checks and block purchases for those who appear to pose harm. Background checks and block immigration for those who appear to pose harm.

The Republican’s answer is that we can’t trust one group, refugees and immigrants, but we can and should blindly trust the other group, gun buyers.

In the UK’s case, the remain folks believe that they can trust Europe, and that the EU’s binding ties ultimately set up the incentives to enforce trust. If the EU screwed the UK, it would hurt the rest of the EU, and vice versa. The leave position inherently says that Europe can’t be trusted to look after themselves, that they would screw everyone, and that the UK is better off alone with less influence on its neighbors.

It’s also important to recognize how much damage the intentional souring of trust has done. From the beginning President Obama was painted as untrustworthy by the right, and the country has suffered for it, through a strengthened executive and less functional courts and legislature. In the UK the UK-first tripe has set up a series of obstacles going forward that will strain relations both inside the UK and with Europe for decades to come.

How can we trust a terrorist to buy a gun? Are other citizens not owed due process in firearm sales? How can we trust an immigrant to not be a terrorist? How much vetting is sufficient? How can the British betray the Continent and expect the world to respect them?