America is a cynical place right now. And why not? It seems every institution we once respected is crumbling. County Commissioners taking bribes, Baseball stars taking steroids, Church leaders abusing children, Secret Service Agents who refuse to pay the hookers they spent the night with. Everywhere you turn it seems, corruption manifests itself in one form or another. In fact an annual Gallup survey released recently shows only three institutions with strong majority support: the military, small business, and the police.
Perhaps nowhere is our cynicism more acute than in the political system. Distrust of elected and government officials is widespread. According to Gallup, barely over a third (37%) say they have a “great deal/quite a lot” of confidence in the Presidency, which is most trusted among governmental institutions. Others fare worse: Supreme Court (37%), public schools (29%), criminal justice system (29%), and Congress (13%). Couple American’s lack of trust in public institutions with a growing polarization of political views and the outlook for resolution of these problems look even worse. The Pew Center’s 2012 American Values Survey says:
As Americans head to the polls this November, their values and basic beliefs are more polarized along partisan lines than at any point in the past 25 years. Unlike in 1987, when this series of surveys began, the values gap between Republicans and Democrats is now greater than gender, age, race or class divides. (emphasis mine)
These surveys confirm what most people intuitively feel – Our political system is riddled with serious problems and our nation is very divided.
How should we respond? Reasonable people condemn things like SWATting and burglary and arson (assuming these incidents are politically motivated). Reasonable people would also condemn threats of violence against an elected official. We should all pledge to oppose politically related violence. It’s easy to decry violence but much more is needed if we are to improve our politics.
I think it begins with trust. Elected Officials like me need to earn the trust of the voters. To be sure, I’ve earned a measure of trust. I was elected in 2010 and face no opposition this year. I take that as having earned a measure of trust from my constituents. But as a whole my constituents are no different from other Americans in their skepticism of political institutions.
This lack of trust manifests itself in crucial ways. Charlie recently wrote, correctly in my opinion, about lack of trust dooming the proposal to privatize and/or offer commercial flights at Gwinnett’s Briscoe Field. Erick says he won’t vote for the TIA because he doesn’t trust GDOT. Jim Galloway writes that lack of trust is harming efforts to pass the TIA among voters in Fulton and Dekalb counties. No matter your position on these issues, I hope you would agree that lack of trust is making it harder to find solutions to difficult issues.
So how do we earn the public’s trust? I have some ideas but I would rather hear from you.