Perhaps the most insidious aspect of the Trump presidency was the four years of eroding trust. People, it seems to me, no longer trust each other. I’ve noticed it most since the reign of a pathological liar. It’s kind of like a nation of children of alcoholic parents—trust is a real struggle. I regularly deal with academics. Now, critical thinking tends to make a person skeptical, at least to a degree, but it seems to me people would trust a very old, highly regarded institution. Lately I’ve noticed that trust eroding in various ways, and that puzzles me. If we can’t trust those who’ve done the heavy lifting of keeping a solid reputation for centuries, well, who can you trust? It’s a real dilemma. Maybe it’s because we had four years of equating “my opinion at the moment” with “facts.” The damage will take many years to repair.
The basic way that civilization works is with trust. We tend not to pay our money for something unless we believe it’s worth what we’re spending. Skepticism, in appropriate measure, is a good thing. So is trust. One way that I often see this is in the hiring of contract managers. Yes, there is such a thing! Many younger academics now hire companies to make sure the publishing contracts they sign aren’t cheating them. When I was in academia you simply went by the reputation of a publisher. Everyone knew who had a good reputation because of, well, their reputation. What a publisher represented was well known and respected for what it was. Perhaps I’m mistaking the desire for personal advantage for lack of trust.
Companies sometimes engage in trust-building exercises. Getting beyond someone’s politics to the person beneath seems to be a dying art. Deep divisions are difficult to achieve when people trust one another. Consider the anti-vaxxers who are now feeding the delta-variation of Covid-19. They’ve been taught not to trust the scientists and officials who offer a way to ending this pandemic. For free. They even don’t believe the post-presidential interview with Trump where he encouraged (far too late) his followers to get vaccinated. Trust has to be built slowly. Over centuries sometimes. One man’s selfishness tore down the modicum of trust that had been slowly growing since the 1860s. Now uninformed skeptics think critical race theory is some kind of plot. Trust isn’t a bad thing. It is the only way to move forward. Trust me on this.