By Jim Poling Sr.
It seems that you can’t trust anyone or anything these days. And, that has become a serious, but much overlooked problem for our so-called civilized society.
A recent Pew Research Centre survey showed that only 20 per cent of adults in the United States trust the federal government to do the right thing. The survey shows Americans also have a declining trust in each other.
Some people blame declining trust on the Trump presidency, but it predates all the lies, misinformation, disinformation and deceptions of that administration.
In Canada, trust in government actually has risen dramatically this year. One survey, from the Edelman public relations firm, showed that 70 per cent of Canadians surveyed trust government during the pandemic.
The survey showed that 73 per cent of respondents agreed with government decisions to restrict people’s movements during the pandemic.
Polls often show that only 50 per cent of Canadians trust the institution of government and its decisions.
As recently as last year an Edelman survey showed government ranked last among four institutional categories – the others being business, media, and non-government organizations. The pandemic put government firmly in first place.
“. . . Clearly, our political leaders are doing something right in fighting this pandemic,” said Lisa Kimmel, head of Edelman’s Canadian operations.
No matter what the polls show about trust and the pandemic, I believe most of us would say we Canadians have seen a general decline in trust, much like the Americans have.
Declining trust actually could, and probably is already, allowing the pandemic to spread more.
“Citizens expect democratic governments to be responsive to their health concerns,” says Orkun Saja, co-author of a European bank study that says young adults who endure a pandemic tend to be more distrustful of governments for the rest of their lives.
“And where the public sector response is not sufficient to head off the epidemic, they revise their views in unfavourable ways.”
The really bad news is that the pandemic likely will leave us with many psychological scars, including the declining lack of trust, for a long time to come.
The pandemic and the ensuing recession likely will see us all unwilling to resume previous spending and savings patterns. Experience with one recession makes people very sensitive to the possibility of another.
An overall decline in trust is becoming a serious concern for some people.
One of those is Pete Buttigieg, former mayor of South Bend, Indiana and unsuccessful candidate to become the Democratic presidential hopeful.
Buttigieg has just released a new book titled Trust. America’s Best Chance. Buttigieg is not only a good speaker, he’s a pretty good writer.
He writes that a General Social Survey has revealed that between 1972 and 2012 the percentage of people who say that most people can be trusted fell from 46 per cent to 32 per cent.
That, of course, was even before the Trump era.
He says that this decline in trust is not part of some natural ebb and flow, but a dramatic change over a specific period.
“It amounts to a genuine and historic emergency . . . . And the better we can understand the toxic roots of this crisis, the better chance we have if addressing it.”
I agree with Buttigieg on this because the opposite of trust is distrust, which really is a club we use in self-defence.
We must have high levels of trust to have healthy, functioning societies.
One of the recent studies on the decline of trust has an interesting quote from Mark Schmitt, director of New America’s Political Reform Program: “Poor performance leads to deeper distrust, in turn leaving government in the hands of those with the least respect for it.”
But the best quote on trust comes from Ernest Hemingway: “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”
Anyone who has been burned in the past is not likely to put full stock in that quote.
As Ronald Reagan, U.S. president and movie star, once said: “Trust but verify.”
And, from Joseph Stalin, the Russian dictator: “I trust no one, not even myself.”
Well he didn’t exactly run a healthy, functioning society. And trust is indispensable for that.