I had a conversation with a young man earlier this week. He related to me how his loss of trust in American institutions had begun after the 9/11 attacks. Our government’s hasty decision to invade Iraq—a nation which had little, if anything, to do with those attacks—came as part of a whipped up patriotic frenzy. In part for that reason, and other similar governmental mistakes, he is now reluctant to trust our government’s frenzied response to COVID-19.
I could have told him, but didn’t, that America’s loss of confidence in government after World War II may have begun as early as Harry Truman’s decision to fire Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Some would say it started with a “rush to judgment” by the Warren Commission after the John F. Kennedy assassination. Others could point to the lies told to the American people by our government during the Vietnam War, closely followed by those of President Nixon during the Watergate Scandal.
Although Spirited Reasoners have not been so quick to throw the baby out with the bath water, even the most optimistic among us must admit that virtues like honesty and courage seem to be lacking in the halls of our federal government. Today, more than ever, we appreciate the wisdom of our Founding Fathers in crafting a three-headed system of checks and balances, fully cognizant of the human frailties of those likely to come to power. But even that system will not be able to survive much longer if our sense of trust in our national institutions erodes much further.
What happens when Americans become so suspicious of every election result that our leaders can no longer take office safely? What happens when the winner becomes the mob leader with the most powerful guns coupled with the will to use them?
What we need is a renewal of trust. Not just trust in government, but trust in one another. After all, our government is based on the notion that “we the people” are fit to govern ourselves.
But how can trust be reestablished when it has been so terribly eroded?
I’ve been reading the latest book by David Brooks titled The Second Mountain. In it, he refers to heroes he calls “weavers,” whose work is taking shape in towns, cities, and rural areas across our nation. In most cases, these people did not begin their work with the idea that by doing so they would be changing the world by reestablishing our mutual trust. Instead, they simply decided to address local problems, one by one, in the neighborhoods where they were living. Rather than attempt to paraphrase the words of David Brooks or those of the heroes his organization is inspiring on the front lines, I invite you instead to see for yourself. A look at his TED Talk, or his book (The Second Mountain), or the personal stories told by the weavers in their own words would be much better.
You can find a good starting point here: https://weareweavers.org/