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Atlantic: How Americans Lost Trust in Our Greatest Institutions

Authors: Ron Fournier, and Sophie Quinton
April 20, 2012

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It's not just Washington; across the country, citizens' faith in their city halls, newspapers, and churches is fading, write Ron Fournier and Sophie Quinton at the Atlantic.

MUNCIE, Ind. -- Johnny Whitmire shuts off his lawn mower and takes a long draw from a water bottle. He sloshes the liquid from cheek to cheek and squirts it between his work boots. He is sweating through his white T-shirt. His jeans are dirty. His middle-aged back hurts like hell. But the calf-high grass is cut, and the weeds are tamed at 1900 W. 10th St., a house that Whitmire and his family once called home. "I've decided to keep the place up," he says, "because I hope to buy it back from the bank."

Whitmire tells a familiar story of how public and private institutions derailed an American's dream: In 2000, he bought the $40,000 house with no money down and a $620 monthly mortgage. He made every payment. Then, in the fall of 2010, his partially disabled wife lost her state job. "Governor [Mitch] Daniels slashed the budget, and they looked for any excuse to squeeze people out," Whitmire says. "We got lost in that shuffle -- cut adrift." The Whitmires couldn't make their payments anymore.

They applied for a trial loan-modification through an Obama administration program, and when it was granted, their monthly bill fell to $473.87. But, like nearly a million others, the modification was canceled. After charging the lower rate for three months, their mortgage lender reinstated the higher fee and billed the family $1,878.88 in back payments. Whitmire didn't have that kind of cash and couldn't get it, so he and his wife filed for bankruptcy. His attorney advised him to live in the house until the bank foreclosed, but "I don't believe in a free lunch," Whitmire says. He moved out, leaving the keys on the kitchen table. "I thought the bank should have them."

A year later, City Hall sent him salt for his wounds: a $300 citation for tall grass at 1900 W. 10th St. Telling the story, he swipes dried grass from his jeans and shakes his head. "The city dinged me for tall weeds at my bank's house." After another pull from the water bottle, Whitmire kicks a steel-toed boot into the ground he once owned. "You can't trust anybody or anything anymore."

Whitmire is an angry man. He is among a group of voters most skeptical of President Obama: non-college-educated white males. He feels betrayed -- not just by Obama, who won his vote in 2008, but by the institutions that were supposed to protect him: his state, which laid off his wife; his government in Washington, which couldn't rescue homeowners who had played by the rules; his bank, which failed to walk him through the correct paperwork or warn him about a potential mortgage hike; his city, which penalized him for somebody else's error; and even his employer, a construction company he likes even though he got laid off. "I was middle class for 10 years, but it's done," Whitmire says. "I've lost my home. I live in a trailer now because of a mortgage company and an incompetent government."

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