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America has forgotten in whom to trust

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If you want to see smoke come from a columnist's ears, walk through any newsroom in American and watch one try to make sense of Bill Clinton's high approval ratings.

Clinton's a masher. He's a cad. He may even be a rapist.But America still applauds when his name comes up.

As a columnist for the Deseret News I've burned a few brain cells of my own mulling that over.

And the only thing I've come up with is this:

Bill Clinton may be unethical, but he's popular because America today is more and more like a Third World country.

Let me begin with a journey.

In the early '70s, I agreed to serve as an adviser for a group of college kids who'd signed on for a winter quarter in Mexico.

I thought I'd be doing "easy time." But the first day in Mexico one of the kids got arrested.

A saga had begun.

The boy was from Salt Lake City. He was an outdoors type who loved old boots and hats and loved to flash his bowie knife.

The problem was he flashed it for the wrong folks.

The police carted him off to jail.

The blade of the knife, they told us, was an inch too long to be legal in Mexico.

By law, he may as well have been waving around a machine gun.

The police took his glasses, took away his shoe laces, then tossed him in the rattiest cell they could find.

It took us more than a week to get him out.

And we had to lie and cheat like demons to do it.

We paid some money here and there to make bail. A trial was set for the following week. But we had no trust in the system. We flew the boy back to the states within 24 hours.

We had no confidence that principle would win there. Our best bet was to stay loyal to "our guy" at all costs.

In a perfect world, of course, people would never have to choose between being loyal to a person and being loyal to their principles. All principle would be embodied in a person: God.

But Mexico, as the Mexicans say, is close to the United States but a long way from God.

And being loyal to high-minded principle in a Third World country can cost you your glasses, your shoelaces, and much more.

I know this sounds very cynical.

But at the time it seemed very practical. Trust was for saps.

Now, looking back at my Mexican nightmare two things surprise me.

First, I'm surprised at how little guilt I felt over skipping out on that court date. The system was broken. I couldn't fix it. So I threw my loyalty behind a human being -- the kid with the bowie knife.

And second, I'm surprised at how the attitude I had in Mexico is taking over America today.

More and more, Americans have lost faith in principle and are putting their faith in individuals.

The system is broken, they say.

Principles can't prevail.

The best you can do is hold to the people who seem to be on your side.

That, I think, was the true verdict in the first O.J. Simpson trial.

The verdict wasn't "Not Guilty." It was "America is corrupt, so we're going to stand by our man instead of stand on principle."

It's the attitude of gangs, of religious congregations willing to support a scoundrel and cities that hold to their contaminated mayors.

And, to bring things full circle, I think it's behind the popularity of President Clinton.

Did he lie? Did he cheat? Did he prey on people?

Hey, all public figures lie, cheat and prey on people.

Honesty isn't the best policy. Backing the right person is the best policy.

In other words, don't abandon the boy with the bowie knife.

People have lived like that elsewhere in the world for centuries.

More and more, they live like that here.

In that perfect world I mentioned, the money may read "In God We Trust."

But in America today, the slogan has been changed. It reads: "In Our Guy We Trust."