Trust. It is crucial to getting things done. Collaboration moves at the speed of trust.
In his newest book, former South Bend Mayor and presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg writes that trust is foundational to the success of American democracy. Speaking to the New York Times last October, Buttigieg said,
“There is unquestionably a crisis of trust and trustworthiness in our country — trust in our institutions, trust in each other, global trust in America as a whole….What I was trying to do was both shine a light on the ways routine cooperation requires trust — whether you’re eating at a restaurant or driving a car — and also show what’s at stake in the biggest public health crisis of our time. I wanted to do it in a way that lets people hear the phrase ‘a more trusting time’ and think about what we’re building instead of what we’ve lost.” (emphasis added)
Buttigieg calls his “modest contribution” a signpost more than a road map, which is a fair assessment. Nonetheless, signposts can be very instructive. It is important to remember in this time of great political discord and paranoid thinking how much we lose when we give up on trust. While often unseen, Buttigieg writes, “trust is indispensable for a healthy, functioning society. And in the absence of trust, nothing that works can work well.”
In this recommended book, Buttigieg, who is President-elect Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Transportation, walks through the necessity of trust, the toxic roots of the recent loss of trust in America, why he believes we are at an inflection point, and ways to rebuild trust. He tells several personal stories about the loss of innocence which comes to all of us when we realize the “tension that exists between the necessity of trust and the reality that people are not always trustworthy.”
There are a number of reasons we are facing a crisis of trust in America, not the least of which is the deliberate and decades-long effort by corporations and wealthy oligarchs to fund politicians who seek power above trust and who will enact policies that favor money over democracy. These are people, as historian Nancy MacLean has shown, who are not trustworthy and who have hidden their true agenda behind a wall of lies. Attacks to destroy the trust and credibility of unions, public schools, climate science, and the very role of government have taken their toll.
“Getting people to trust you through consistent, hard-won credibility is difficult and time consuming,” Buttigieg writes. But, and this is critical, “a shortcut to gaining trust is to simply ask people to join you in distrusting someone else.” (emphasis added)
“And so today we find ourselves in a kind of multi-direction tug-of-war with fellow Americans, all while edging nearer to the cliff. Across fifty years, through a combination of failed policies, amoral technologies, and concerted, deliberate attacks, foreign and domestic, we have lost access to the basic levels of trust that democracy demands.”
This is where we find ourselves two days before the first inauguration in U.S. history that is not based on the peaceful transfer of power. Donald Trump, after years of spreading baseless lies and being supported by enablers in politics, the media, and technology, will leave office without conceding that he lost the election. This is all based on Trump’s biggest lie to date, claiming that the presidential election was rigged but that the down-ballot races somehow were not rigged. That lie is evil, certainly, but as many have written it is also unbelievably dumb.
He did lose. In a landslide, no less. His supporters, incited by his words and actions, attacked the citadel of democracy at the U.S. Capitol and tried to halt the certification of the vote. Even though the insurrection failed, many enablers of Donald Trump continue to lie about the election outcome and that attack.
Those lies started well before January 6th, of course. Lying, gaslighting, double standards, faux outrage, and projection are all tricks of the trade to build distrust in government and to ask one group of Americans to join in distrusting other Americans. Those political leaders, their financial supporters, and their enablers in technology and the media have been using those tools ever since they decided to try to hold onto power as an extreme-right minority rather than change their positions and expand their base to attract more voters as is generally done in healthy democratic systems.
Those who care about democracy, the rule of law, fairness, social justice, and truth must understand the situation we are in and respond accordingly. There are ways to build trust back into our system. We can begin by remembering what it feels like to really see people beyond their tribe or ideology. We do that when we “come into the presence of one another” in the words of Whitney Kimbell Coe of the Center for Rural Strategies.
We cannot build a more trusting time, however, unless we also recognize that there are those who benefit from the discord and distrust, and who will work hard to undermine any efforts to reduce their influence over others. Their role in our society needs to be diminished and controlled. We need to realize, in Buttigieg’s words, the “tension that exists between the necessity of trust and the reality that people are not always trustworthy.” In this moment, when those who want to undermine democracy react with more lies, gaslighting, and faux outrage, just remember their now 50-year pattern of deceit and don’t get fooled again. Because they will continue in an attempt to overwhelm the truth.
Why? Because we have a not insignificant group of political elites who stopped caring about good governance and are focused instead on holding onto power using whatever means necessary, including it seems for some of them, openly embracing white supremacy, armed insurrection, and the delusions of a farcically transparent con man.
Very few have taken the courageous step of former Republican operative Stuart Stevens who delivered a blistering mea culpa and admitted his personal role in building the party on racism and lies. When a party stands for nothing, Stevens argues, “it is only natural that it will be taken over by the loudest and angriest voices in the room.”
So why do so many people believe these politicians and their enablers in technology and the media who stand for nothing but maintaining their own power? Because it is the “nature of the human condition” writes Buttigieg “that we are inclined to deny the truth of things that would be painful to face.” Things like our role in supporting white privilege, for instance.
It isn’t clear if these politicians, commentators, and bad actors think Americans are stupid, or if they themselves are not the sharpest knives in the drawer, or if they don’t care. Rudy Giuliani may fall into all three categories. But my larger point is we need to stop listening to these people as if they are part of a rational, functioning political party that cares about the future of democracy and America. After four years of supporting every whim Donald Trump wanted to inflict on America while turning a blind eye to the unnecessary deaths of 1 in every 1,000 Americans under his mismanaged coronavirus response, they have lost their chance to be taken seriously until they clean house.
We need to stop giving them any type of trust, because they have worked overtime to destroy our trust.
Paul Waldman wrote a piece in the Washington Post in October in which he looked into a future with a Democratic president and vice president, House of Representatives, and Senate and predicted the lies we would hear in 2021. And so many of the lies are such tried and true tropes that to those who will be telling them it must feel like the Blues Brothers rescuing their friends from soul-crushing jobs (or four years of supporting Trump) as they put the band back together and play the tunes they really enjoy. What are some of the lies Waldman highlighted?
- The deficit will be bad again because there is a pattern we can see as “consistent as the rising and setting of the sun.” Republican presidents cut taxes and increase spending. As soon as a member of the other party assumes the office, the deficit becomes the biggest threat to America today “and the only solution is austerity policies that hamstring the economy and make that president less popular.” The fact is that the record of economic growth and good management of the economy is much better under Democrats than Republicans.
- Partisanship is bad or the “it is time for unity'” theme is a lie they can wield “because of the naïve but widespread idea that there are bipartisan solutions just waiting to be had.” The truth is that the two parties simply have “fundamentally different agendas.”
- All of a sudden we’ll be told that America isn’t a democracy, it is a republic and that we have to worry about the tyranny of the majority over the downtrodden, poor minority. The minority, it turns out, has had an outsized role over the past few decades in telling the majority what to do and in restricting their freedoms.
There are other lies, projections, gaslighting, faux outrage, and double standards that we’ll see.
- Every member of the party coming into power, down to conservative Joe Manchin of West Virginia, will be called a socialist. Because the right today despises programs to help others who are not like them or which might take one dollar out of the pockets of their financial benefactors (including Social Security and the Post Office). Socialism is their catch-all word to brand people who care about the larger community. Many of those making the charge do this while working at government jobs and/or drawing government pensions.
- After the most immoral, incompetent, and corrupt administration in history, all of a sudden we’ll be asked to believe that the party that enabled Donald Trump cares about truth, standards, family values, religious freedom, and laws!
Paul Waldman captured the correct response.
(H)ere’s the thing about all these lies: We don’t have to take them seriously. When Republicans start squawking about the deficit, we can dismiss it out of hand. When they start crying about tyranny, we can remind them that when you lose an election, the winning side takes power and does things you oppose (emphasis added).
Now that the January 6th insurrection has painted a stark picture of where so much of the party leadership stands, there is a simple response to the lies, gaslighting, faux outrage, and projection that are sure to come. And that response from the majority should be that we won’t get fooled again.
Yes, there are honest, empathetic and loving Republicans. I am related to some of them. Throughout my career, I set aside partisan differences and worked with both Republicans and Democrats to advance causes for which we all felt passionately. I am old enough to have seen Democrats as the party of racial hatred and to have voted for moderate Republicans. But after the last four years I believe all who care about democracy have to call out the cynicism and the willing destruction of trust and truth. The consequences of staying silent are too serious.
America has lived under the tyranny of minority rule for oligarchs for too long, and it is destroying our country.
No, we won’t listen to the lies, projections, and gaslighting. We will trust those people of any party who act out of good will and who are willing to work to save democracy, support all Americans, and build a future that is a more trusting time. At least right now in this country, elections still have consequences.
Don’t get fooled again.
More to come…