Unfortunately, cynicism is still doing land-market business in America. Never in short supply, the last refuge of the optimist seems to be more prevalent than ever. Even small children today exhibit a level of jaded ennui and distrust that would shock a Roman Senator. The reason for this is that there is so much to be cynical about. America’s institutions are so full of corruption and hypocrisy that the only way a person can remain sane is by completely ignoring and/or dismissing the process. The result is that there is a crisis of confidence, a lack of trust in the country, its leadership, and its policies.

I was brutally reminded of the sad state of our society the other day as I was riding in my sister’s car along the highway in New Jersey. While enjoying the luxury of being a passenger, I took the opportunity to people-watch the drivers of the cars around me. Among the behemoth SUVs, I saw a small car embellished with plastic and paint in a way that the owner must have thought looked “cool” being driven by a young black man.

I pointed it out to my sister, as I have always found such cars ridiculous. A large sedan was tailgating the little car as it sped along. It became apparent that the sedan was trying to get the small car to speed up, not an unfamiliar sight. The difference this time was that the moment the small car sped up to increase the distance between the two vehicles, the sedan revealed itself to be an unmarked police car, flashing its lights and sounding its siren to cause the smaller car to pull over, actually cutting off several other cars in its zeal to “get” its prey.

I had heard of the infamous “driving while black” incidents where police pull over cars driven by minority drivers for the flimsiest of reasons, but I never thought it could happen in such a blatant and flagrant manner. To this day I am ashamed that I didn’t step forward and confront the police officer, or at least take down the car’s number and phone in a complaint. We are so used to the abuse of power by those with it that it becomes almost a given.

This attitude of power being its own justification extends itself into every facet of American society. From the petty torments of the bureaucrat behind the paperwork window to the tyranny of the dance-club bouncer, everyone seems only to be interested in how much they can get others to recognize their authority.

The other side of the coin is rampant hypocrisy. The rich decry affirmative action while using their connections and cash to get their children into the best schools and jobs. We dose our television-raised children with Ritalin to keep them quiet in the classroom, overmedicate the disturbed with Valium and Prozac, yet refuse to allow doctors to prescribe marijuana to cancer patients to help them overcome the side effects of chemotherapy.

Nowhere is this corruption and hypocrisy more evident than in the office of the President of the United States. George Bush the younger tears up, ignores, or refuses to sign treaties on such vital topics as missile defense, nuclear proliferation, human rights, and the environment, while insisting that he is for peace, freedom and the health of the ecosystem.

While the storm clouds of war rain down on Iraq, Bush ignores the growing crisis in North Korea. How can anyone take him seriously in foreign affairs when it is obvious that he is attacking Iraq because they can’t fight back, and is trying to ignore the situation in N. Korea because they can? Let’s not even mention the power of oil in the equation.

This is a man who reportedly couldn’t even fulfill his rear-echelon Air National Guard service during a time of war. He truly meets the description of a chickenhawk, a fomenter of war who has never fought in combat himself. His unilateralism is rivaled only by his myopia. Refusing to partake in international actions that don’t meet his whims, he bullies others into following his initiatives.

In Iraq, his “support” of anti-Saddam forces conveniently ignores America’s earlier aborted support for anti-Saddam Kurds in the early '90's that ended in the slaughter of almost all that were involved after America pulled out. Let’s also not forget that Saddam was once an American ally, and the much-decried gassing of Iranian troops was performed during that time.

Bush’s domestic agenda also inspires fear and doubt among the population. He has presided over one of the greatest transfers of wealth in history, managing to completely destroy the gains in unemployment and deficit reduction that was accomplished by the Clinton administration. His ecological initiatives bring benefit only to the companies and individuals intent on profiting from its destructive exploitation.

He wasn’t even properly elected, installed in the office in a process that further reduced the public’s faith in a pathetic, malfunctioning, and corrupt system that only serves those with money and power. One has to question a system where billions are spent in little more than name-recognition efforts interrupted only by devious mud-slinging efforts to tear down the name of the opponent instead of an intelligent discussion of the issues.

The American public is unfortunately a willing participant in the slide into decadence, demanding only the modern-day equivalent of bread and circuses of a working cable TV and a pizza delivery that arrives no later than 30 minutes after the order. Those that have the courage to question the system are increasingly being treated as enemy combatants and traitors by an administration intent on waving the flag vigorously in the public eyes in order to distract them from the theft of freedom and the destruction of the constitution going on in the name of “security”.

This crisis of confidence will only end when the American people wake up and demand that the institutions and authorities that were created to serve the people start doing so again. Until that time comes, there will be no faith in the US, inside or outside of the country.