It doesn’t matter who won the election if we still don’t trust each other
If you believe having your favorite candidate in office will “fix” the country, you will be disappointed. The biggest challenge the United States faces is not political, but cultural.
Trust is what allows a society to exist. It’s our greatest national resource.
If trust falls, we all do. Right now, we trust each other less than ever before.
- Do you trust strangers more today than you did 10 years ago.
- Do you trust the media more today than you did 10 years ago?
- Do you feel the country is better at critically assessing ideas than it was 10 years ago?
- Do you trust your government more today than you did 10 years ago?
Most of us would answer “no” to these questions.
Trust in media is the most hotly-discussed of those questions — probably because it’s the media itself discussing it. Trump coined the term “fake news” in an accusation against CNN through its correspondent Jim Acosta.
The term has since been used ad nauseum since then by pundits across the political spectrum.
We’ve all read or heard some kind of misinformation this year. If it wasn’t an outright lie, it has a half-truth designed to convey a certain impression, or lead you to fill in the blank and make assumptions about a person or group’s intentions.
Americans do not trust mainstream media. This should come as a shock to absolutely no one. Smaller outlets, be they independent newspapers, podcasters, or even niche YouTubers fill in the gap. Americans consume more media than ever but where we’re consuming it from is rapidly changing. In recent weeks, even Fox News, which has led other outlets in viewership and been a conservative media stronghold, is losing its audience.
Aside from a couple of peaks in the late Reagan and the early Bush Jr. years, public trust in the US government has been on a steady decline since Nixon. I don’t place blame on a single politician for this (though several certainly deserve a share). When you see a negative trend across parties and leaders, the failure must exist on a broader level.
When it comes to COVID-19, many among us do not trust official numbers, nor are we eager to to accept potential vaccines. I’m not attempting to validate or discredit these beliefs — just point out their existence. A quarter of the citizens of most nations (and over half in a couple) are skeptical of both the proposed problem and solutions to deal with coronavirus.
Now, with accusation of election fraud, many are less willing to trust one of our most sacred political processes. Again, I’m not talking about if it’s true or not—many believe it’s true so trust will suffer as a result.
Education is a leading indicator for a nation. The strength of teaching, the subjects studied, and the networks and innovation forged all tell a story of what the country will look like in the years to come.
One of the core principles in western higher education is the ability to freely discuss challenging ideas. This pillar is in peril.
Professor Jonathan Haidt, while being interviewed on The Joe Rogan Experience had this to say:
“I hear every day…every week I get an email from a professor who says ‘I used a metaphor in class and somebody reported me!’ Once this happens to you, you pull back, you change your teaching style. What we’re seeing on campus is a spectacular collapse of trust between students and professors. And when we don’t trust each other, we can’t do our job….we have to play it safe.”
I witnessed this to a smaller degree while at university in Scotland. During a class in 2011, an American lecturer referred to the Hebrew Bible as the Old Testament. No one reacted, yet he immediately corrected himself and mentioned offhand how if he had made this mistake in an American university, his job might be on the line.
Regardless of whether or not a professor would lose their job for calling the Hebrew Bible the “Old Testament”, the fact is some feel as if they would. They bring hesitation into their teaching style and perhaps are not as willing to challenge preconceived ideas of their students or their peers.
If you visit a busy coffee shop in Japan, you might be surprised at what you see. When someone has temporarily vacated their seat, they will often leave their cell phone on the table to indicate the seat is occupied. They trust no one will move or take their phone while they’re in line for food, or in the bathroom.
Compare that to HitchBOT, a robot which successfully hitchhiked across Canada, the Netherlands, and Germany, only to be beheaded in Philly while trying to get across the US. There might be a million reasons why it happened in the US and not in the other countries, but the fact is it happened here.
I moved to Denver from Cincinnati a couple years ago. At grocery stores in Cincinnati, I noticed it’s normal to smile at strangers or wave at people you’re driving by in your neighborhood, even if you don’t know their name. In Denver, I’ve encountered a lot more aggressive people, especially younger men my age. The city has had a massive influx of transplants in the last few years (like myself) which has shifted the culture in a cosmopolitan and anonymous direction.
Anonymity is good when you need a reset. It’s not good when you’re trying to build trust and connection. It’s not just a Denver problem. This city is repeating a phenomenon happening all over the country.
How do we build trust? I don’t know. That answer is too big for this short write-up. But if we don’t start figuring it out, expect things to get worse.