Our National Malady

Author: David M. Shribman

We spent the last year stewing about it and wrestling with what it means and worrying that it’s gone. For long months, the country was convulsed over which one — Hillary Rodham Clinton or Donald J. Trump — had less of it. The exhausting examination warped our civic conversation and shaped our political and personal lives. It had driven us to anger and dipped us into despair.

We were speaking, of course, of credibility, the quality of trustworthiness that is at the heart of personal relations and foreign relations, of the business marketplace and the commonplace exchanges of everyday life. It is worshiped in the classroom, where intellectual credibility reigns supreme, and in the hardscrabble streets beyond the academy, where the phrase “street cred” has real power. In the political arena, dominated this past year by charges and countercharges, it is the currency of the realm.

One presidential candidate fibbed that she had never sent any material marked classified through a personal Internet server, while the other, now president-elect, fibbed about his position on the Iraq War. Few outside the pay of these candidates believed a word they said about these and many other issues, and the use of the word “fibbed” here is a wholly inadequate characterization. The journalists covering this dreadful election campaign — who were supposed to be the impartial chroniclers of America’s greatest civic drama — were themselves under siege. Amid all this, reporters and editors for beleaguered mainstream media debated whether the traditional evenhandedness they seek to employ in the service of credibility only served this past year to undermine that credibility.

We are, in short, in a credibility crisis. The evidence comes from all over. The leaders of Wells Fargo Bank had it but lost it. Television newsman Brian Williams used to ooze it — until he was caught in a mire of deceit. An Olympic medalist lied about being robbed in Brazil, and an Indian couple concocted a story about climbing Mount Everest and then fabricated photos to prove they made the ascent. Organized religion used to have it in surfeit, but no more. Polls show that as recently as three decades ago it had more of it than any other institution, but public confidence in organized religion is two-thirds what it was then — with the military, small business and even the police now having more of it.

Only about one American in five has trust in the federal government, a dramatic change in six decades. Indeed, in 1958 — in the wake of the Soviet launching of Sputnik and federal troops descending into Little Rock to force desegregation — three Americans in four said they could trust the government always, or most of the time. For eight of the last nine years, the institution ranked lowest in credibility has been Congress.

That precipitous decline, from 73 percent to 19 percent in about a half century, is the price the country has paid for a “missile gap” that wasn’t (John F. Kennedy) and for weapons of mass destruction that weren’t (George W. Bush); the deceit over the casualties and prospects in Vietnam (Lyndon Johnson and Nixon) and the stubborn belief that an appointed president made a perfidious deal to pardon his predecessor for his crimes (Gerald R. Ford); the congressional hearings prompted by the deliberate White House deceptions of the Watergate affair (Nixon) and the snoozy White House deceptions of the Iran-Contra affair (Ronald Reagan) along with the national convulsion over whether the president had an affair with an intern in the White House (Bill Clinton); and the failure to respect a president who, though he was a canny Annapolis engineer and commanded nuclear weapons, was unable to respond to a hostage crisis fomented by students (Jimmy Carter) — while outgoing president Barack Obama’s credibility was questioned by those who doubt he is a natural-born citizen of the United States and those citing a reluctance to act decisively after threatening action in Syria.

It is not only political figures who have failed us in the past several generations. So did big science (at Love Canal and Three Mile Island), big business (with Enron and a string of investment powerhouses, beginning with Bear Stearns), big sports (the drug crisis in baseball, the phony courses for the gladiators of college football and men’s basketball), and many others.

All that has conspired to create a country that yearns for credibility even as it fails to find it, that believes it is beyond definition but not beyond identification. For the credibility we seek and celebrate goes beyond mere honesty, beyond finding power in speaking the truth, beyond even speaking truth to power. It requires not innocence, nor purity, nor even lack of guile, for at its heart credibility requires knowledge of the world and how it works, and how to work it — and, above all, self-knowledge. As the 19th-century Russian novelist and essayist Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, “The man who lies to himself cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and others.”

Perhaps the best definition, though, of the elusive but estimable quality of credibility can be found in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay on heroism, written 175 years ago but fresh to our modern eyes and to our 21st-century sensibility: “It speaks the truth, and it is just, generous, hospitable, temperate, scornful of petty calculations, and scornful of being scorned.”

The word credibility emerged nearly five centuries ago, from the medieval Latin credibilitas, which means to inspire confidence or trust — “warranted trust,” says Brad Gregory. The Notre Dame historian explains that the meaning has held through the years: “When St. Augustine is concerned about whether someone is lying or telling the truth, or when we examine our political leaders, it’s really the same thing.”

The credibility slide in modern U.S. history probably began in the 1960s, when the term became a central element in our politics. It was President Johnson who in 1966 was said to have created “a credibility gap,” particularly on Vietnam. “Credibility was generally assumed in the early 1960s,” says Michael Sovern, a legal scholar and former president of Columbia University. “It was a very generous period in that respect. It probably ended with Lyndon Johnson, and then, of course, Richard Nixon arguing that a loss in Vietnam would result in a loss of America’s credibility made it worse. And once you revealed that there were lies in the highest places, people started to look for them.” Once they looked for them, of course, they found them.

“No one has ever doubted that truth and politics are on rather bad terms with each other,” the political theorist Hannah Arendt once said. “And no one, as far as I know, has ever counted truthfulness among the political virtues. Lies have always been regarded as necessary and justifiable tools not only of the politician’s or the demagogue’s but also of the statesman’s trade.”

So these days it might be disheartening to recall why the framers of the Constitution gave the name “Senate” to the political body where our political leaders toil. In the Roman republic, the Senate was conceived of as a repository of the highest ethics and customarily met in religious settings, the greater to shroud its deliberations in high-minded thought. Although today we sometimes sadly regard the U.S. Senate an assemblage of the fallen, it still can provide insights into the nature of credibility.

One such revelation is that the power and mystery of credibility did not always require a common point of view. In Profiles in Courage, the Democratic Senator John F. Kennedy singled out for praise Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, a conservative known as “Mr. Republican.” The two had little in common, yet Kennedy wrote of Taft: “He was known in the Senate as a man who never broke an agreement, who never compromised his deeply felt Republican principles, who never practiced political deception.” Although Kennedy was an accomplished partisan pugilist, he nonetheless was moved to include in his book a quote from President Harry S. Truman: “He and I did not agree on public policy, but I knew where he stood and he knew where I stood,” to which JFK added, “We need more intellectually honest men like Senator Taft.”

Today it is common to deride the upper chamber of Congress, which in 2015 won the confidence of a mere 8 percent of the American public, according to a Gallup survey. Yet a handful of lawmakers do retain (at least some) credibility. “It’s an unfortunate world these days because so many people dismiss politicians because they think we have no credibility,” says Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, who won re-election to a second term in November in large measure because he projected little artifice. “That’s a challenge for all of us. In the halls of Congress there are people who have credibility — I think of John McCain — and there are ones who do not. Among our constituents it’s harder and harder to find people who think we have that credibility, though.”

Michael S. Dukakis, the former governor of Massachusetts who was the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee in 1988, says, “If you look at the Congress you’ll find a lot of people who actually have great credibility. They are people who are on the level and want to make the country and the world a better place. But you see a lot more of them on the state and local level.”

But there was a time, within recent memory, when senators — more than just a handful — had enormous credibility. “They counted for something in their states and in the country,” says Ira Shapiro, whose 2012 volume The Last Great Senate is regarded as a classic examination of the 20th century glory years of the chamber. The credibility of those lawmakers — the Democrats Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, Mike Mansfield of Montana, Henry Jackson of Washington and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, along with the Republicans Everett Dirksen of Illinois, Jacob Javits of New York, Howard Baker Jr. of Tennessee and Robert Dole of Kansas, among others — was derived from two elements no longer revered: long service and polished expertise. Indeed, mastery of their domain — Jackson on military matters, Javits on labor policy and foreign affairs, Kennedy on health, Mansfield on the Far East, Dole on taxes — was the weapon these men wielded on Capitol Hill.

One political figure who served in the Senate in that era was Walter F. Mondale of Minnesota, who later was chosen as Jimmy Carter’s vice president and then, in 1984, won the Democratic presidential nomination. Although he lost 49 states to Ronald Reagan in the general election, nobody today derides Mondale. He is seen as the personification of credibility — a credibility earned by years of service, to be sure, but also from one sentence delivered at his party’s San Francisco convention, acknowledging that if he were elected he would seek to raise taxes.

“I wanted to tell the truth,” Mondale says. “I wanted to fund my progressive policies — more education and health care and so on — and I couldn’t figure out how to do that without taxes. I told the truth at a time of maximum visibility, at our convention. It may not have caused my downfall, but it obviously didn’t help.”

The admission that he would raise taxes was so controversial that some of his own supporters publicly assailed it as an act of political naïveté if not suicide. Mondale soldiered on, winning only his native state and defending his initiative and his instinct to this day.

“I knew I was behind, I knew I had to connect with voters, and I knew I had to be trustworthy, to tell the truth,” he says. “I said what I said. I was worried about my credibility. I’d been around politics a long time. I was an insider. People were not sure I was leveling with them. I had to show people that I was real, that I would talk about things that people wouldn’t touch, and won’t touch today.”

The irony is that today Reagan, the winner of that campaign, also is regarded as an apostle of credibility, even if his command of the issues and his engagement in details were specious at best. For Reagan, never bound by facts but always possessed of great truths, had great credibility, and not merely — as his critics charged — because he had the skills of an actor and was playing one of the great roles in history. He did not know that trees were not a cause of pollution — one of the whoppers he told in the 1980 campaign against Carter — nor, as Iran-Contra displayed, was he a hands-on master of management. But he understood the country, discerned and then set its mood, and, like Kennedy before him, gave voice to America’s aspirations and ideas.

And while the “Morning in America” advertisement that was the leitmotif of his re-election campaign — a shimmery love ballad transformed into film that included gauzy glimpses of flag raisings, bridal couples and white picket fences — is considered one of the most manipulative advertisements in U.S. political history, it expressed the essential character of Reagan. “Credibility is the essence of all of it,” says Sig Rogich, who directed the team that created the “Morning in America” spot and also produced ads for George H.W. Bush. “Commercials have to be real.” And that spot was the real distillation of the Reagan ethos — optimistic, uplifting, nostalgic — and thoroughly without meanness.

For credibility emerges not from calculation but from character. It is not produced in a strategy session, nor is it itself a strategy. It is expressed in qualities, not in quantities. It is not a brand but a reputation. It can be earned but not made. It is how others see you, and only partially what you say to others. And it has to be both the expression of truth and grounded in truth. It cannot be conjured by campaign strategists in what Upton Sinclair, in a famous 1934 California gubernatorial race, once called a “lie factory.”

Because credibility requires credible arguments. “You cannot tell people that ‘happy days are here again’ when you are in the middle of a depression,” says Frank I. Luntz, the Republican pollster who helped develop the Contract with America that catapulted the Republicans back into control of the House of Representatives in 1995 after four decades in the minority. “You cannot tell people ‘blue skies are here’ when you are in the heart of a hurricane. Credibility is built and sustained by how others perceive you, and not what you say and do yourself. It is completely outward, not inward.”

That is why, Luntz argues, House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin had more credibility last fall than did Trump, even though Trump was the party’s nominee. “Trump tells everyone how much he gave to everybody’s charities,” Luntz says. “Paul Ryan doesn’t write checks. He goes to soup kitchens, he works with disadvantaged families. All these politicians talk a good game and do photo ops. Paul tells the press to go away. That’s authenticity, that’s credibility.”

Luntz, known as the pre-eminent “language guru” of contemporary politics, urged Republicans not to say “inheritance tax” but to say “death tax” and not to say “tort reform” but instead to say “lawsuit abuse reform.” Are words an indispensable element of credibility? “No,” he says emphatically. “Actions are more important than words when it comes to developing credibility.”

Words are indeed a very unreliable guide to credibility, says Susan D. Blum, a Notre Dame anthropologist and the author of Lies that Bind, based in part on decades of fieldwork in China. She argues that it is often difficult to discern from words whether the person who speaks them is authentic. “You have to try to guess what signs people are giving off,” she says. “So if a student tells me he really likes my class, I have to wonder if he means it, if he wants a good grade from me, or whether he is just being polite. One of the things we anthropologists know is that lying, and the possibility of deception, are part of the nature of language.” Because language can be deceiving, Blum believes past behavior is a better indication of credibility.

But words still count in the business world, where Luntz, disillusioned with politics, now directs much of his activity. Although he argues that language is by itself only one tool to win credibility, he acknowledges that it does have a role in the marketplace of ideas. “So many companies try to use soft-sounding language in their corporate-responsibility efforts,” he says. “They talk about ‘sustainability.’ Here’s the problem: ‘Sustainability’ is the status quo. But we have found that the public wants things to be better, so ‘cleaner,’ ‘healthier’ and ‘safer’ beat ‘sustainability’ every time.”

Aside from politicians, few groups face a bigger credibility crisis than business executives. “Whatever the value of credibility was for business in the past, it’s five times more valuable today,” says Matthew J. Slaughter ’90, a former member of the White House Council of Economic Advisors and now dean of Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. “Most people today take a look at business leaders and see them as rapacious and selfish. That’s true for many but not all or even most of them. But the big challenge for business leaders today is to build back credibility.”

Here is part of the challenge: A Gallup poll shows two-thirds of Americans have confidence in small business, a figure second only to the military and a rating more than three times higher than big business, which checks in at a 19 percent confidence rating. That is perhaps a reflection of the Main Street orientation of small business; people know the local florist or the person who runs the dry cleaning operation or the couple struggling to run a neighborhood restaurant. But it underlines the challenge that Slaughter outlines.

Another element of that challenge: the self-fulfilling cult of the highly paid corporate leader. In a landmark article in the Harvard Business Review a decade ago, four professors at MIT’s Sloan School of Management identified what they called the “incomplete leader” in business — in short, a leader without credibility — and argued: “In today’s world, the executive’s job is no longer to command and control but to cultivate and coordinate the actions of others at all levels of the organization. Only when leaders come to see themselves as incomplete — as having both strengths and weaknesses — will they be able to make up for their missing skills by relying on others.”

One place in human affairs where credibility is central is diplomacy and national security. While we think of deterrence theory — which depended upon the credibility of a superpower’s military response — as a manifestation of the Cold War, the concept actually goes back thousands of years and does not even have its origin in relations between states. We deter people from committing robberies in part by threatening punishments, for example, just as we know that our threats to send our children to bed early if they don’t finish their broccoli are empty if we are not serious about following through.

For centuries diplomats and political theorists have examined how to use the threat of violence — massive retaliatory force — to prevent an adversary’s attack. It is an instrument of foreign policy that became more prominent during the atomic age. “If your adversaries don’t think you are going to do what you say you will do, they will consider your threats empty,” says David Shlapak, a senior international researcher at the RAND Corporation, which for several decades has studied deterrence and credibility. “Deterrence is a state of mind that rests on capability and credibility. You have to have the tools at your disposal to execute your threat — but you have to have the credibility in the view of your adversary that you will follow through on your threat.”

Credibility was at the center of the American experience in Vietnam, with three presidents — Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon — committing the United States to involvement in Southeast Asia in large measure to preserve American credibility, not only on that embattled continent but in Europe and Latin America as well. In the realm of foreign policy, credibility is a major consideration because of its role in the relations between nations.

But in another sense, credibility is a problem. The United States commitment to defending South Vietnam as a means of defending American credibility meant the war was a means to two separate, sometimes incompatible, ends. In a Vietnam retrospective written in The New Yorker less than two months after the fall of Saigon in 1975, Jonathan Schell argued that a major aim of the entire enterprise was American credibility. “The word was a new one in the political lexicon,” he wrote. “It referred not to anything tangible but to an image: an image of vast national strength and of unwavering determination to use that strength in world affairs.”

Schell went on to argue that “of all the war aims, the aim of protecting American credibility proved to be the most durable.” That was a principal reason Nixon pressed on in Vietnam and, in late April 1970, widened the war, bringing it to Cambodia and specifically citing U.S. credibility as the rationale for his invasion of the country. “If when the chips are down,” the 37th president said in an unforgettable passage later quoted more in derision than in approval, “the world’s most powerful nation, the United States of America, acts like a pitiful helpless giant, the forces of totalitarianism and anarchy will threaten free nations and free institutions around the world.”

That speech, known to history as the “pitiful helpless giant” speech, is the perfect expression of the role credibility plays in diplomatic and military matters. Nixon and his speechwriter, Patrick J. Buchanan, went through nine drafts of that speech, but Buchanan says the final product was far more Nixon’s than his. “He felt that the whole American war effort, but even more that the credibility of the United States, was on the line,” Buchanan says. “’He thought we had to see through our commitment to the end, and if the United States buckled and broke, American credibility would be destroyed all over the world. He felt that all the nations around the world that had put their faith in our commitments would lose their trust in America and America would lose its credibility. We said we would stand by these nations. If we didn’t, our credibility would be destroyed worldwide.”

So while Schell is right that credibility was, at least for a time, the most durable element of post-Vietnam thinking, it was also the element most vulnerable to political, diplomatic and scholarly re-examination. “After the war it was clear that our loss did not adversely affect American credibility,” says Michael Desch, a Notre Dame political scientist. “All the dominos did not fall, and our relations with Russia were pretty much unaffected.”

That is true — and yet the cult of credibility remains in foreign policy. For the better part of a year, Trump criticized Obama for allowing America’s military to deteriorate, undermining, or so the Manhattan businessman argued, the nation’s credibility. When the president drew a “red line” in Syria and then the Assad regime used chemical weapons, Obama did not order an American intervention. Even Hillary Clinton criticized the president, telling The Atlantic, “If you say you’re going to strike you have to strike.”

The U.S. presidential campaign of 2016 was about many things — the economy, immigration, terrorism, student debt, health care — but above all it was about credibility.

Both major-party candidates sought it, neither personified it. That may be the reason the campaign was so dispiriting, even desultory. In the 2016 race, according to Gregory, the Notre Dame historian, the credibility question was “central to the unease that so many had for both candidates.” Brendan Nyhan, a Dartmouth political scientist, characterizes the recent contest as “a campaign where misinformation was king,” arguing that the public’s willingness to believe what it wanted to believe contributed to this characteristic.

Even so, credibility was hard to come by. After one of a number of revelations about Clinton’s emails was disclosed, the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, often a bitter opponent of the onetime New York senator, argued that the “new information makes a hash of what’s left of the former Secretary of State’s credibility.” The toll on Trump was even more severe, though in neither case did credibility questions erode the support of the two candidates’ most fervent followers. In mid-August, Trump’s campaign aired a television ad about Syrian refugees and illegal immigrants (“collecting Social Security benefits, skipping the line”) that the Clinton team found so lacking in credibility that it issued a 15-page point-by-point response. Trump’s numbers did not move discernibly.

“It was very difficult to fact-check [Trump] for people who liked what they were hearing,” Nyhan says. “We have a bias toward information that confirms our predispositions. And Trump was shameless. We never saw a candidate who cared so little whether what he was saying was factual.” But that should have astonished no one. In his book Trump: The Art of the Deal, he spoke of the value of what he described as “truthful hyperbole,” a phrase of inner contradiction.

The result was what The Economist called “post-truth politics,” the product of atomized media and the tendency of modern consumers of news to believe what they want or what they want to be true. In last spring’s Brexit referendum, millions of British voters believed that European Union membership cost their country about $470,000,000 a week. That preposterous figure was just one of the untrue “facts” that circulated through Europe and were catalogued by The Economist; another was the fantastic notion that the July attempted coup in Turkey was financed by Lufthansa, worried that a new Turkish airport would eliminate lucrative connections in Germany.

This past fall there appeared in the shelves of American booksellers and libraries a book with the cynical title of A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking for the Information Age. Inside its covers, Daniel J. Levitin, a professor of psychology and behavioral neuroscience at Montreal’s McGill University provided a tour d’horizon of mendacity that begins with an important admission. Although he is a fellow of both the American Association for the Advancement of Science and of the Royal Society of Canada, Levitin acknowledges, “I haven’t verified firsthand that Americans landed on the moon, that the speed of light is 186,000 miles per second, that pasteurization really kills bacteria, or that humans normally have 23 chromosomes.” For all that he relies on experts.

But he also warns that there are “lying weasels” out there who want to steal our money or our votes, and who, he writes, “snow us with pseudo-facts, confuse us with numbers that have no basis, or distract us with information that, upon closer examination, is not actually relevant.” We all know this, of course, and it makes all of us wary of the information we consume in our daily lives. So what is a person to do? “The antidote to this is to analyze claims we encounter the way we analyze statistics and graphs,” he counsels. “The skills necessary should not be beyond the ability of most 14-year-olds.” In this context, we are all 14-year-olds, standing on the precipice of the Credibility Gap.

Then there was the issue, suggested throughout the U.S. caucuses and primaries but emerging again a major theme as the November 8 balloting approached, of the credibility of the election itself. This question comes at the nexus between legitimacy and credibility, for though there is much scholarly and diplomatic discussion about the nature of governmental legitimacy, governments generally are regarded as legitimate if they are credible. Trump’s repeated assertions that the process — first the primaries, then the general election — was “rigged” was at base a question of the credibility of the contest and thus a challenge to the legitimacy of the result. This is a dangerous question, raised only twice in American history: in 1824, when forces supporting Andrew Jackson, who led the popular and Electoral Votes in a four-way race, claimed there was a “corrupt bargain” that put John Quincy Adams in the White House; and in 1876, when a special electoral commission sorted through conflicting Electoral College slates and delivered the White House to Rutherford B. Hayes.

But throughout U.S. history there has been a revered tradition of nobility in defeat, in which the vanquished candidate acknowledges the credibility of the contest and does not challenge the legitimacy of its result. This prevailed even in 2000, when the competition between Governor George W. Bush and Vice President Albert Gore Jr. went into a 36-day overtime as ballots in Florida were recounted and as that state’s Supreme Court and then the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in, eventually delivering the White House to Bush.

“While I strongly disagree with the court’s decision, I accept it,” Gore said, adding: “For the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession. I also accept my responsibility, which I will discharge unconditionally, to honor the new president-elect and do everything possible to help him bring Americans together.” These remarks, like countless others after bitter election fights, gave credibility to the process, to the president who eventually prevailed — and to the political figure who, amid great disappointment, made them.

While Trump was deprecating the Republican political establishment to his benefit, a candidate whose views were dismissed by the Democratic political establishment was flourishing in his own, separate, race against Clinton. Senator Bernie Sanders was so removed from the Democratic center that he wasn’t even a Democrat; he was elected from Vermont as an Independent, identified himself as a democratic socialist, and caucused with Senate Democrats more as a matter of convenience than conviction. In rally-like campaign appearances, often with seats filled to the highest balconies, he inveighed against what he described as a conspiracy of billionaires and thrilled college-age voters with his promises of free tuition.

In the broadest traditional sense, the Sanders campaign had no political credibility — most mainstream political professionals didn’t think his proposals realistic and put a stratospheric price tag to them — but in a year like 2016 he was the candidate with perhaps the most credibility, especially among young people. In New York, which twice sent Clinton to the Senate, voters 18 to 29 sided with Sanders by a margin of almost two-to-one. Shortly thereafter, in the Pennsylvania primary, when Clinton basically had wrapped up the nomination, Sanders still swept 83 percent of the vote of those 18 to 29 years old. This was a remarkable achievement for a candidate who was 74 years old.

“With Bernie, credibility was natural,” says Tad Devine, who has advised Sanders since he was in the House two decades ago and who managed his presidential campaign. “He’s always been an authentic candidate. And during the campaign I looked back in my old files and found a four-page letter saying: ‘You can’t tell me who to be. You can’t tell me what to say.’” From the start, Sanders resisted handling (which in the Trump case was sometimes catastrophic but in the Sanders case inspired). “This was a time when people wanted a candidate to tell the truth to them, and they wanted real solutions,” Devine says. “Our job was basically just to capture that. He had enormous credibility because he was willing to speak plainly to people. He actually said he was a democratic socialist. He didn’t shave or shade any of it.”

For his part, Sanders didn’t think there was anything remarkable about that — a position that represented a bit of contrived posturing to his foes, another emblem of credibility to his adherents.

“What we did was speak to the realities of American life in a way that most candidates do not,” Sanders said after his campaign ended and as he was campaigning for Clinton. “It is no secret that the legislative process is dominated by big money, and that situation has become a lot worse. The impact of big money on the political process limits very much how candidates can speak to the American people. . . . Poverty and wealth disparity and universal health care — in very significant ways we raised those issues.”

As Sanders knows, credibility is a coveted, valuable attribute. But for all the power that credibility packs, lack of credibility is even more powerful. Credibility and trust enhance relationships; indeed they are the essential building blocks of healthy relationships. Distrust, however, poisons those relationships.

David Shribman is the executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.