We Need More Human Interaction If We're Going to Build National Trust

Experiencing an imminent depletion of social capital and trust, Americans have much to fear about the gloomy prognosis for their communities and neighborhoods. 

Reported in a recent Gallup poll, Americans have reached an all-time low in their trust in the American people. After the question was introduced to the Gallup survey over 40 years ago, the figure has never reached as low as 61%, especially in such proximity to its recent peak in 2005 at 78%. While this number shows a majority of Americans still trusting their fellow citizens, this number is disconcerting given its steepening downward trend. When stratified by political party, Democrats were found to be the most trusting at 68% while Republicans were the most skeptical at 57%. 

As our government shutdown continues into its 4th day, evidence of a trust deficit could not be more obvious. With Democrats not trusting Republicans, Republicans not trusting Democrats, and Americans not trusting their political institutions, it is no wonder that our faith in one another is waning. 

However, the recognition of this “trust deficit” is nothing new; whether explicated by Robert Putnam in his work Bowling Alone or labeled “corrosive” by Governor Jon Huntsman (now co-chairman of No Labels), Americans declining trust in one another has been a prescient indicator of substantial matters for a number of decades. Trust is important economic currency, leading Nobel-prize winning economist Kenneth Arrow to write, “Virtually every commercial transaction has within itself an element of trust.” Trust is also what allows for valuable governance: if Americans don’t trust each other or their officials, then policymaking remains stagnant and ineffective. 

In order to have trust, there must be an object of that trust; for example, one cannot have trust without have trust in something. While trust in the American people is directed to a seemingly abstract concept, it is also directly correlated with those American people who you know and with whom you have contact and networks. For example, if one has positive community relationships, he or she is likely to have more trust in the American people. Therefore, a dive in trust evidences an unfortunate collapse in community relations.

In order to re-enchant our communities, and subsequently our polis, our society needs to foster a reinvigoration of relationships. Simple practices such as inviting a friend over for dinner, spending less time in front of the television or computer, joining community organizations, or going to church more frequently will be revolutionary for our culture. By increasing the number of our daily contacts and transforming the nature of these networks, we will become more invested in our communities and our neighborhoods. When we begin to trust our neighbors again, we will begin to trust Americans again.

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Alexander Podkul

Alexander Podkul is a PhD student studying American Government at Georgetown University. In addition to Mic, he has published at the Brookings Institution and writes regularly for the online blog Philanthropy Daily. Alexander's academic work focuses on campaigns and elections, stemming from his firsthand experience in the field. Much of his written work tackles broader issues of politics, public policy, and religion. He holds an MA in American Government and a BA in Theology and Government from Georgetown University.

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