How American Institutions Went From Trust to Bust

Gerard Baker:

At the heart of America’s political and cultural turmoil is a crisis of trust. In the space of a generation, the people’s confidence in their leaders and their most important institutions to do the right thing has collapsed. The federal government, big business, the media, education, science and medicine, technology, religious institutions, law enforcement and others have seen a precipitous decline.

As public faith in the performance, credibility and integrity of these institutions has collapsed, so too has mutual trust—the social glue that holds the country together. Americans have become suspicious of one another, distrusting their fellow citizens as much as they distrust foreign adversaries.

Think about the controversies that have played out in the past few years—allegations from both parties of stolen elections, false claims by mendacious presidents and other politicians, politically motivated federal law-enforcement decisions, questionable advice and mandates from public-health officials, news coverage that skews in one political direction, a succession of corporate scandals and financial crises, and the various social dysfunctions caused by social media and emerging technologies.

All reflect and exacerbate a climate of deep popular distrust. This rapid loss of confidence is startling and unprecedented. It has ominous implications for the cohesion, prosperity and even survival of the U.S. Trust is the essential feature that allows society to function—more important the more modern and complex society grows.