When the CDC announced that fully vaccinated people could, in most cases, ditch their masks, we celebrated. About five minutes later, we stopped celebrating and started asking questions: What does this mean, exactly? Do I still have to wear a mask at work? Do I need to carry a vaccination record?
At The Washington Post a journalist posed a question in this headline: “The new mask guidance relies on an honor system. Do we trust each other enough to make it work?”
I read that and thought, “Uh-oh. If we need trust to make this work, we’re in trouble.”
We liked Ike and we trusted him
We’ve got some “trust issues” in this country. Last week, the Pew Research Center updated their “Public Trust in Government” poll, one they’ve administered since 1958. During the Eisenhower administration, three-quarters of Americans said they “trusted the federal government to do the right thing almost always or most of the time.”
Today, just 24% of us say we trust the federal government. That’s not the lowest result (2011 has that distinction), but it’s close.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, no one trusts government. But we trust each other, right?” We certainly don’t think we do. In another poll on “Trust and Distrust in America” Pew conducted in 2019, 79% of respondents said, “Americans have ‘far too little’ or ‘too little’ confidence in each other,” and 64% believe our trust in one another has been shrinking.
Most people who took that poll were prescient in their responses to another question: 70% of participants agreed that our low levels of trust in one another would make it harder to solve our problems. We’ve got plenty of evidence from the past year proving them right, between our response to the pandemic and the January 6th attack on the Capitol. We certainly aren’t behaving like people who trust one another.
Given my role, what should I do?
In his recent book, A Time to Build, Dr. Yuval Levin looks at why we’ve lost trust in each other and our institutions, those things that form “our common life, the structures, the shapes of the things we do together.” If we take institutions and our roles within them seriously, he argues that we must ask ourselves what responsibilities we have to others and to the institution. If you’re a member of the PTA, you should ask yourself, “given my role here, what should I do?” not “What do I want?” or “What would look good to others?”
What “most drives us crazy” and leads to distrust, Levin says, are people who fail to hold themselves accountable and aren’t living up to the expectations of their roles.
This week, our five links include the polling on trust in America, a podcast with Levin, and some thoughts from people who study human behavior about the likelihood that your neighbors or co-workers will lie about being vaccinated.
I hope you’ll check them out and think about why you do or don’t trust people around you and what you, in your role as a concerned member of your community, can do to help build confidence in the institutions that shape that community!
5 links worth your time
- Many people have little faith that their maskless fellow Americans have actually been vaccinated.
- New poll shows that only one-quarter of Americans feel they can trust the federal government to do what is right.
- Research shows our levels of trust in one another have been declining.
- Once we start to lose trust in our institutions because of the way those in the institutions behave, those institutions will no longer be able to do what we expect.
- New mask rules trust Americans will be honest about vaccine status. Experts say they’ll lie.
Photo by Romolo Tavani on Adobe Stock