Lacking in Trust

by Dave Schuler on December 8, 2013

The General Social Survey, produced over the period of the last forty years, reports that the United States is suffering from a “crisis of trust”:

Since 1972 the Chicago-based General Social Survey (GSS) has been asking whether most people can be trusted, or whether “you can’t be too careful” in daily life. Four decades ago Americans were evenly split. Now almost two-thirds say others cannot be trusted, a record high. Recently the Associated Press sought to add context to the GSS data, asking Americans if they placed much trust in folk they met away from home, or in the workers who swiped their payment cards when out shopping. Most said no.

That crisis may be the single most important factor in our politics:

This is America’s real problem with trust. The country faces a crisis of mutual resentment, masquerading as a general collapse in national morale. Sharply-delineated voter blocs are alarmingly willing to believe that rival groups are up to no good or taking more than their fair share. Polls describing America as a hell-hole of corruption are not to be taken literally. They are a warning. America is not a low-trust society. But it risks becoming one.

A start might be to stop imputing bad motives to people with whom you disagree.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

James Joyner December 8, 2013 at 10:13 am

I agree with the sentiment but it’s rather circular as a solution, no? If we presumed good will in others, it would be evidence of a more trusting society.

Dave Schuler December 8, 2013 at 10:16 am

One of the best ways of encouraging a behavior in others is to model that behavior.

James Joyner December 8, 2013 at 10:36 am

But we’ve been modeling that behavior online for at least a decade and the problem is only getting worse!

Dave Schuler December 8, 2013 at 10:48 am

The behavior that’s been modeled online and in the real world most clearly is assuming the worst motives of those with whom you disagree as the first impulse. You’re one of the good guys, James, and I’ve tried my level best always to engage the ideas, never to engage the individuals.

But that’s rare, rare.

steve December 8, 2013 at 4:57 pm

Politics has always been rough. When you look back at the things that were said about opposition politicians they were not nice. I think what may be different now is that we have media working around the clock to keep everyone angry. Faux anger a lot of the time, at least in the sense that most of the time it is over made up stuff, but still anger. I think this makes people start to believe the stuff they hear and read. It’s one thing to aggressively argue your position and to attack the positions of those you disagree with. It is something else to believe that those who disagree with you want to destroy the country. I think we are stuck with this for a long time because I dont see this kind of media going away.

Steve

Red Barchetta December 8, 2013 at 8:10 pm

I hate to break the Kumbaya or however you spell it. Its all fine and well to have civil discourse. But often its an excuse for timid people with no balls, and no real beliefs they are prepared to stand behind vigorously. Just no appetite to speak their mind.

People know what I do. Our investment committee meetings would shrivel those complaining about spirited discourse on this website. And, by the way, we arrive at very good decisions, therefore. (Unfortunately, James, if you read this, your site has befallen to the affliction of cheap trolls and cheap arguments.)

I don’t really impute bad motives to anyone here, although I absolutely impute sycophantic tendencies – only a fool wouldn’t – and seriously, and I believe legitimately, question how people can claim good motives while watching such manifestly disastrous results in public policy.

IMHO there must be a recognition: wishing well while blind to empirical reality or wishing well as fantasy are different endeavors from dealing with reality like an adult. Doesn’t make you a bad person, just still residing in Kansas, Toto.

Dave Schuler December 8, 2013 at 9:27 pm

So why should we not impute bad motives to those that profit from this system?

How do you know their motives? You can’t deduce them from profit alone.

CStanley December 9, 2013 at 6:11 am

The relative civility of the discourse isn’t the problem, in my opinion- it’s that the politicians have used the anger to abdicate their responsibility to actually govern. They win elections and maintain power strictly by stoking the fire, so why bother with all of that tedious policy stuff?

If one side was legitimately concerned with income inequality, and promoting policies that could actually work, while the other side was concerned with real, broad pro-growth policy, then I would support them using any and all means of discourse to fight passionately for that which they believe.

Instead, we get bread and circuses.

Because of this reality though, putting aside the anger (or redirecting it toward our worthless politicians) may be the only way to save ourselves. But when I have argued that point on many ostensibly centrist, nonpartisan blogs, I usually get pushback for claiming a “false equivalency”.

Red Barchetta December 9, 2013 at 8:17 am

“So why should we not impute bad motives to those that profit from this system?”

Dave – Where is this reference?

CStanley – “The relative civility of the discourse isn’t the problem, in my opinion- it’s that the politicians have used the anger to abdicate their responsibility to actually govern. They win elections and maintain power strictly by stoking the fire, so why bother with all of that tedious policy stuff?………….

If one side was legitimately concerned with income inequality, and promoting policies that could actually work, while the other side was concerned with real, broad pro-growth policy, then I would support them using any and all means of discourse to fight passionately for that which they believe.

Instead, we get bread and circuses.”

I couldn’t agree more, CStanley. Civility in the holy name of “get along”, or as the politicians do – to just pit voting blocks against each other for votes gets us nowhere. Argue your case, with a result in mind, and then move on.

Cstanley December 9, 2013 at 8:27 am

PPACA epitomizes what I’m talking about. Can any of it’s supporters honestly now say that the Democrats were on the side of the angels relative to the Republicans who tried to obstruct it? Can any of them not see, when they’re taking an honest look, that what was passed was not really reform at all, and at least some of the vitriol they had for the GOP should have been directed at the Democrats? The sheer incompetence of the execution of the law ought to convince everyone to be more cynical of their an side. As a conservative, I experienced the same with regard to the Iraq War, and then my newfound cynicism led me to view other issues like the economy with eyes open.

Dave Schuler December 9, 2013 at 8:51 am

Can any of it’s supporters honestly now say that the Democrats were on the side of the angels relative to the Republicans who tried to obstruct it?

Sure. The Democrats are pure of motive and clean of hand while the Republicans are vicious, evil racists, always taking the side of Big Business against the little brown guy.

How do they know this? Beats me.

jan December 9, 2013 at 10:29 am

” Can any of them not see, when they’re taking an honest look, that what was passed was not really reform at all, and at least some of the vitriol they had for the GOP should have been directed at the Democrats? The sheer incompetence of the execution of the law ought to convince everyone to be more cynical of their an side. “

It’s party politics. When it’s your party committing incompetent errors, creating obtuse policies, lying, excuses seem to freely bubble up for their conduct, while you automatically flail around to cast blame onto others — whether or not it makes any sense.

Can you imagine, though, the social progressive vitriol spewed, had a similar HC plan been unilaterally created and passed by the republicans — one that had been couched in rhetorical lies, causing so much grief and cancellations of HC policies, and ultimately narrowing exchanges and eliminating personal HC services/choices for many people! If this were the current GOP-created spectacle, there would be self-righteous pandemonium in democratic circles, having politicians elbowing peers away, in their rush to grab the nearest microphone, ripping their political counterparts!

Red Barchetta December 9, 2013 at 7:05 pm

I guess I may sound like a broken record here.

I think those of us who don’t trust government to accomplish almost anything efficiently see ObamaCare as it is, and as it was predicted – an obvious disaster of monumental proportions.

That’s different from the recognition that the current system needs some fixes.

That’s different from not caring about the poor or those uninsured, for whatever reason.

That’s different from wanting an alternative approach to solutions.

That’s different from imputing motive as opposed to imputing profound ignorance of organizational behavior – especially government.

And that’s different from watching the absolutely pathetic and dishonest approach the Obama Administration is taking to this debacle. They lie and obfuscate at a level no different than a kid with chocolate all over his face telling us he wasn’t in the cookie jar. Its publicly embarrassing. But this isn’t cookies, its people. Shame on Obama.
That’s different from

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