Months after dropping out of the Democratic presidential primaries, Pete Buttigieg is back with a warning: America, he says, is facing a crisis of trust. And he says building that trust, in both American institutions and fellow citizens, is the only way to address the other challenges facing the country.
Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., called trust one of his "rules of the road" during his presidential campaign.
"Honesty is in our nature, and it is one of our greatest means of restoring faith in our democracy among everyday Americans and building a national movement rooted in trust and faith in our country and our beliefs," his campaign said.
He builds upon this idea, with his own life experiences, in his new book, “Trust: America's Best Chance.”
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A 2020 survey from the Pew Research Center shows just 20 percent of U.S. adults say they trust the federal government to "do the right thing." The low trust in government predates Donald Trump's presidency and goes back more than a decade. Americans have a declining trust in each other as well.
"It reflects the broader reality we're living in — a combination of our political reality and our media environment — that has really created what I view as a threefold crisis in trust," Buttigieg says. "Trust in government to do the right thing, trust in one another and even global trust in the United States as a whole. And we're not going to be able to navigate that if we can't at least agree that we're living with the same facts."
Buttigieg expanded on the idea in an interview with NPR's All Things Considered. Interview highlights contain extended, Web-only answers.
On the issue of racial inequality and racial mistrust
This, I think, is the critical question for our time. And one of the biggest things I've found in researching the book is that it's reciprocal. A lot is made of the many reasons why Black Americans are suspicious of any number of institutions that have proven to be untrustworthy.
But let's also consider, if you consider trust a kind of currency that makes it possible to get through life, there are also many ways in which Black Americans in particular and Americans of color broadly are less likely to be trusted. The fact that it is more expensive to interact with the banking system, for example, if you live in a Black neighborhood, reflects the system unequally distributing economic trust.
Again, so many of the situations that lead to police violence involve what Bryan Stevenson has called a "presumption of dangerousness and guilt." In other words, I would argue, a mistrust that many Black Americans live with just walking through the street or driving a car.
So we have to consider trust as something that needs to be offered in order to be reciprocated. And that's true in the relationships people have with each other. And it's true in terms of the relationships we have with institutions.
On how mistrust in the U.S. affects how the country appears globally
What needs to happen is for America to be seen credibly and authentically to be leading in a positive direction, dealing with threats that affect not only us, but the rest of the world. Now, the good news in the bad news is that there are plenty of threats affecting the entire world, like the pandemic and increasingly climate change too, that America can't solve alone. But also that because we are such a big economy and a big part of the globe, the world can't solve it without America.
If we rise to meet these challenges in a way that's inclusive and authentic, then I believe we have a historic opportunity to swiftly accumulate trust in a way that hasn't happened probably since World War II, another moment where America earned a century's worth of credibility in a handful of years, because of the choices that we made. But it does bear emphasis that we need to recognize that trust is a strategic asset, and you can tell that our adversaries get it because of the effort they've put into eroding our levels of trust.
On where we should we go from here
I think the most important thing for us to do is to remember that, imperfect though it is, our constitutional system has encoded within it the tools to make it better and to make our institutions more trustworthy. This is something that reformers, activists and advocates have understood and used to make great change. And I think we're due for that to happen again.
As a general rule, the U.S. has produced roughly one constitutional amendment per decade or so. But we really haven't done anything in the last 50 years at the level required to make sure that our democracy is in fact democratic. The longer that goes on, the more tension you see between what the American people expect of our institutions and what we actually get.
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