Trust Tells Us A Lot

As our social distancing drags on, researchers have been investigating the effects on social solidarity–how Americans view each other, and especially, any changes in the level of “social trust.” In this context, social trust is an indicator of what sociologists and political scientists call social capital.

The bad news is that, thanks to the ineptitude and constant and pathetically obvious lies from the Trump administration, trust in the federal government is very low. (Recent example: Israeli news reports revealed that U.S. Intelligence told Israel and NATO in November  about the threat posed by the coronavirus– contradicting Pentagon claims that no such report existed.)

The good news is that a couple of recent surveys have found improvement in the way Americans view each other. In that sense, it’s reminiscent of the change in attitudes triggered by the Great Depression. Suddenly, the very American (and arguably Calvinist) view that people are poor because they are morally defective–lazy or unmotivated–was replaced by recognition that poverty is largely a social phenomenon. (If there are no jobs, its harder to blame people for not having them.)

Social capital is the label we give to our memberships in social networks–the human relationships within which we are embedded. Trust is an important component of social capital–but so is reciprocity. Scholars define social capital as the institutionalized expectation that other people will reciprocate co-operative behaviors–the recognition that If we fail to work together when collective efforts are needed, we all become poorer.

There are two kinds of social capital: bonding and bridging. Bonding social capital is possible only with shared identity (however identity is defined). It’s at the heart of tribalism: “I belong to this group, and I look with suspicion/disdain at those who don’t.” Bridging social capital, which has been in short supply recently, links people across cleavages that typically divide us (race, class, or religion). Its associations create ‘bridges’ between communities.

The surveys that suggest a growth in “generalized social trust” are encouraging because they hold out the hope that America may be restoring some of its lost bridging social capital.

I was reminded of the importance of trust and bridging social capital when I was cleaning out cabinets in my home office. (I don’t know how other people cope, but stress tends to turn me into a maniacal cleaning machine.) I came across a reprint of “SPEA Insights” –a PR publication we used to put out, highlighting faculty research. This one was from July of 2010; titled “Trust Me, Said the Spider,” it was focused on the then-recent publication of my book Distrust, American Style.

In it, I pointed out that trust in social institutions–especially but not exclusively government–is absolutely essential to contemporary life.

Think about it. We deposit our paychecks and take for granted that the funds will be there when we need to draw them out; we pay the electric bill and expect the lights to turn on when we throw the switch; we order a gizmo from Amazon or other Internet merchant and are confident the gizmo will be delivered. We go to our local grocery and buy a chicken, confident that we won’t have to individually test it for e coli when we get home.

On and on….

And–as I argued in that paper– Americans rely on government to ensure that our water is drinkable, our air breathable, our aircraft flyable, and so much more.

I was particularly struck by my own words from 2010:

“And when we go through a period when government is inept or corrupt, that confidence is shaken–but our skepticism and distrust affect more than just the political system. Trust in government sets the tone for confidence in all social institutions….From time to time, America goes through periods where the failures of our civic and governing institutions are so manifest that awareness of them is simply inescapable. In the era of the Internet, the amount of information received by even the most “low information” voters has been enormously amplified. When I wrote Distrrust, the American public was positively marinating in news of corruption and incompetence.”

That was 2010. Ten years ago. I’d say we’re pretty thoroughly marinated now.

The last sentence of that essay is truer today than ever, in the wake of this pandemic: “our first order of business must be the restoration of transparency, accountability and trustworthiness of our government.”

No kidding.


  1. Sheila,

    “our first order of business must be the restoration of transparency, accountability and trustworthiness of our government.”

    How can we start to do that with PRESIDENT DEATH?

  2. “our first order of business must be the restoration of transparency, accountability and trustworthiness of our government.”

    This is exactly why I have supported Joe Biden for the presidency since before he announced he would run; he spent 8 YEARS gaining experience necessary for the presidency. Those who call him too moderate or too far to the right don’t seem to understand that IF he wins in November, come January 20, 2021, “our first order of business must be the restoration of transparency, accountability and trustworthiness of our government.” We cannot forge ahead with progressive “ideas” built on the shaky ground of Trump’s deconstruction of our governmental administration.

    ” Americans rely on government to ensure that our water is drinkable, our air breathable, our aircraft flyable, and so much more.” Just as we rely on those paychecks, self-deposited or automatically deposited to be there to cover our payments; either by hand-written checks in the mail or automatic deductions. The changeovers from President George H.W. Bush to President Bill Clinton to President George W. Bush to President Barack Obama was never a concern; agree with their politics or not, we placed our full TRUST in them to continue “business as usual” knowing they would uphold their Oath of Office to protect this country and support the Constitution. Today; we have no idea what we will be facing hour-to-hour from Trump or the Covid-19 Pandemic; a deadly combination.

    We have nothing in our history to compare Trump to so we have no idea of what now “goes on behind closed doors” of OUR White House or what leavings we will find in the ruins when the Trump family vacates the White House – whenever that may be. We have learned not to trust our own government on any level of any issue and now we are facing actual life-and-death 24/7 – just not in the violence in the streets many expected. “Trust” needs to be struck from our vocabulary till further notice.

  3. when nixon was kicked to the curb, i trusted the gov much more,the system worked. when wall street continually fails and still demands more,i stand my ground,no… when the present admin has become hostile to every ideal this America provided,and set course for others to follow, i called the card.. ive seen enough being in the working trenches. back when vietnam delivered its returns from war, i seen a remarkable change in how i seen war,not just the studies and past records, i was among those whos lives were forever changed. mental abilities were scrambled,and our gov ignored them. the Carter years were somewhat a place to hope, reagan like trump dashed that into the ground. in the working world i look outside the fence,back in..i work with minds that have changed daily at times. the changes,prapaganda on a emmence scale. over the course of the last 50 years,those changes have accelerated to warp speed, then back again,or off to another galaxy.. shaken or stirred sir? trying to relate is not for the faint of heart, beaware, and most of all expect the talk to include many aspects,beyond normal thinkin…bridge the gap? cant, open sewers are unbridgeable,like wall streets thinking.. greed is the moderator today, when you only look at the present ad media. social media has been abused, and is now used for its glory of changing minds,or,influencing to gain self appointed thrills. wrong,? maybe,seems the family connection is needed and many other excuses. dissing someone when sitting at a table to have your own world in the social setting,seems contradictory. i see this every day,family,friends,work. this alone sets a tone im not interested.
    cant have a face to face if you cant enjoy human intervention,in real life..bridge,seems to obscure now. i sure enjoy a good hostile talk with people who are screwing us out of our democracy as they blow off about the very items that made them who they are,free..return to,the subject, bridge. how? when a land mine is set below your feet,and if ya move,o.k. i dont have the word power,and flavored words to soothe and heal. i do however,have the keen in your face reality check many need right now. im not belittleing some person for wanting to think as they want, but somewhere the dark clouds of propaganda has inflated thier egos and manhood,er,personhood,to ignore,why America exists,and who died to provide it.. ill have my ongoing discussions,ill leave the bridge to you guys,with the flavored words…best wishes,, washdapaws..

  4. JoAnn,

    ““Trust” needs to be struck from our vocabulary till further notice.”

    Except for one thing: You can “trust” that any VALID attempt to unseat Trump will be me with a legitimate threat of DEATH.

  5. If you want to be effective in communicating with Trump, you need to remember the immortal words of Gregory Peck, the Flight Commander, in “Twelve O’clock High.”


    That’s the only way anyone can be effective at this point in time.

  6. From Wikipedia, [a how-to-do- it lesson that we best remember]:

    “The assassination of Israeli Prime Minister and Defence Minister Yitzhak Rabin was the culmination of an anti-violence rally in support of the Oslo peace process. Rabin was disparaged personally by right-wing conservatives and Likud leaders who perceived the Oslo peace process as an attempt to forfeit the occupied territories and a capitulation to Israel’s enemies.”

    “National religious conservatives and Likud party leaders believed that withdrawing from any “Jewish” land was heresy. The Likud leader and future prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, accused Rabin’s government of being “removed from Jewish tradition […] and Jewish values”. Right-wing rabbis associated with the settlers’ movement prohibited territorial concessions to the Palestinians and forbade soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces from evacuating Jewish settlers under the accords. Some rabbis proclaimed din rodef, based on a traditional Jewish law of self-defense, against Rabin personally, arguing that the Oslo Accords would endanger Jewish lives.”

    “Rallies organized by Likud and other right-wing groups featured depictions of Rabin in a Nazi SS uniform, or in the crosshairs of a gun. Protesters compared the Labor party to the Nazis and Rabin to Adolf Hitler and chanted, “Rabin is a murderer” and “Rabin is a traitor”. In July 1995, Netanyahu led a mock funeral procession featuring a coffin and hangman’s noose at an anti-Rabin rally where protesters chanted, “Death to Rabin”. The chief of internal security, Carmi Gillon, then alerted Netanyahu of a plot on Rabin’s life and asked him to moderate the protests’ rhetoric, which Netanyahu declined to do. Netanyahu denied any intention to incite violence.”

    “Rabin dismissed such protests or labeled them chutzpah. According to Gillon, Rabin refused his requests to wear a bulletproof vest and preferred not to use the armored car purchased for him. Left-wing supporters organized pro-peace rallies in support of the Oslo Accords. It was after one such gathering in Tel Aviv that the assassination took place.”

  7. Yes. President DEATH. How perfect. Rick Wilson would love that as his sequel to EVERYTHING TRUMP TOUCHES DIES.

    In my view, the main reason trust in government is so low is because of the cult of Trump, aka the Republican party. They have abdicated totally their (misguided) positions on fiscal sanity and given trillions to those who need it the least. Save for Mitt Romney, they have turned their backs on justice and acquitted (different than not guilty) a proven criminal who now flaunts his criminality for all to see. They have kicked working people, and most everyone else, in the teeth regarding affordable health care with their craven and unjustifiable attacks on the ACA, Medicare and Medicaid.

    The Republican party has become exactly what Karl Marx warned the world about in 1850! THEY are the rot in psyche of this country. THEY choose to abet the president of DEATH. THEY are silent and compliant with the daily lie fest emanating from the sewer Trump calls a mouth. They MUST be voted out or somehow eliminated from continuing to poison the good people of this country with their elitist points of view.

  8. Jack,

    Very interesting points! I have to agree, if I’m reading you right, people are so confused by the whipsaw propaganda back and forth, almost like you are driving through the the mountains on switchback roads, constant veering from one side/curve to the other, is exhausting! He it’s exhilarating for the 1st 10 minutes and then it becomes laborious.

    And, I think you’re correct about this “propaganda” inflating the importance and “egos” of those who have an extremely narrow and rigid view of their fellow man and his fellowman’s beliefs and rights!

    You are spot on with what Sheila was mentioning about Calvinist belief systems, very rigid in the face of change! A Calvinistic understanding that is so staunch, it withstands evidence to the contrary to the detriment of themselves, and those to whom the Calvinistic beliefs pummel.


    Wonderful post, I appreciate the effort you put forth every day, I also appreciate the opportunity to express my opinions which seem to be a bit on the rare side here. So, you absolutely practice what you preach! You are the polar opposite of a Calvinist, LOL!

    When people feel that poor and disadvantaged are that way because of a predestination, rather than circumstances handed down to them by the ruling government and the elites in that governments orbit, it’s a simple copout! It’s a copout because they’ve allowed doctrines that subvert their fellow man’s free moral agency, because we are all free moral agents no matter where we are on the societal ladder. The Conduct by, as you call them, (Calvinists) Cements people into their positions on that social ladder, and justifies mistreatment to those trying to move up a rung or 2.

    John Milton was really diametrically opposed to the rigidity of Calvinism, and even though in my humble opinion, he had gotten some things wrong, he had gotten a lot more correct! His book, “On Christian Doctrine” points out a lot of the Calvinistic shortcomings, and trying to correct a lot of its moral misgivings, some still might consider John Milton to be too rigid, but one would have to consider the times in which he lived.

    Love your neighbor as yourself, love God, take care of the orphans, the fatherless children, the widows, the foreign residents, and to treat others as you would like to be treated yourself. Very simple, and yet very un-Calvinistic!

    I believe, as we struck up upon the notion on the last thread, civil disobedience and the power of the purse, it will allow everyone to gauge the seriousness of citizens mistrust of these Hypocritically manipulated government and interloping corporate institutions! And the continued attempted Infusing of Calvinistic beliefs into secular society and attempting to control it to with Calvinistic propaganda. Of course, that Calvinistic propaganda is going to ring true on those who actually believe in it, but, as Sheila alluded to, eventually, that is going to be unsustainable as it seems we might be going through another age of Enlightenment forced upon everyone by a microscopic interloper.

    I don’t think the predestination idealists ever saw this thing coming, of course I’m sure you could find it in one of Nostradamus’s extremely vague quatrains, LOL!

  9. That was a sad day Marv,

    When Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, and not too long after, Anwar Sadat! To me, it truly seems that Yitzhak Rabin and Anwar Sadat became friends! And that just wouldn’t do. Too much money to be made in conflict, and too much religious fanaticism backed by capitalism! Oh the hypocrisy!

  10. Vernon,

    The idea of President Death came from my experiences in the ’70s with Dr. James Grigson, the long-time psychiatric witness for the prosecution. The Dallas press labeled him as Doctor Death for his deceptive testimony which almost always lead to the imposition of the death penalty.

    His deception was finally stopped when the criminal courts finally accepted my Motion in Limine preventing the description of the accused as UNCURABLE ASCENDING SOCIOPATH.

    However, I would have no objection if that was the description used against President Death.

  11. I wonder if this is coming down to whether humans are inherently good or the opposite? Trust in every structure of government is headed downward; few and fewer people are identifying with a religion and/or attending services. Even “trust” in teams, music genres, celebrities, etc. is splintered daily by being multiplied and spun.

    Will it come down to whether we trust our own personal values….or maybe, we don’t have any, any more…except “if I am not for me, who am I for”? The behavior of the younger generations, unfortunately, often smacks of that…

  12. So who are the real villains in this hate the government and love Big Business CEOs and socialism for the rich and brutal capitalism for the rest of us? We tend to take it out on Republicans, even rank and file Republicans, but ordinary Republicans (and there are some) are victims along with the rest of us of this current system – and who is responsible for “this system?” It is not just Republicans but also the rich and corporate class, whose constant propaganda assigning merit to the hard working rich and disdain for the lazy poor has found favor among the polity. These merchants of greed might have chosen another party (or financed another front) to cover their activities to further their terminal ambition to commandeer all assets on earth, but they didn’t. They chose the Republican Party.

    So what to do? We need to go after both these villains and expose their greedy antics to everyone, including ordinary but propagandized Republicans who have no real fish to fry in assisting the rich and corporate class to become richer but whose heads are turned by ancillary issues such as abortion and other such “issues” that belong on the kitchen rather than the government’s table. I note here in passing that “socialism” is the latest no-no sponsored by the rich and corporate class, as though we don’t already have tons of it embedded in our system of blended isms.

    So will my reeducation plan yield results tomorrow? No. It will take time and perseverance of effort. Meanwhile, our task is to get every Democrat off the couch this fall and any other voter not yet sufficiently propagandized to the polls (or if we have a post office, via mail). We don’t have the luxury of waiting to do our turnout best what with a lunatic at the helm, a lunatic that must be removed if we are to survive banana republicanism, so after all is said and done in our political posturing and other attempts to extricate ourselves from this existential mess, guess what? The rubber meets the road with the usual measure of success – arithmetic a/k/a turnout – and turnout requires organization months in advance of the election, like now, so let’s go to work today and every day to make turnout happen this November.

  13. Trust is a secondary concept; credibility is a primary concept.

    I trust my lights come on when I flip the switch, BECAUSE electricity has established CREDIBILITY.

    I trust my Social Security Check will be deposited on time, because the Social Security Administration has established CREDIBILITY.

    I recall as a child when we had electricity brought from the line along the road to our house. We were not at all sure the light–a single light–would come on when we flipped the switch. The power company had not established CREDIBILITY yet. In fact, it was years of hit-or-miss power at our house before we extended cautious trust that the lights–we gradually added electric gizmos, including more lights–would come on when we flipped the switch.

    Sheila, please write a book about CREDIBILITY, AMERICAN STYLE; trust will follow credibility as the cart follows the horse.

  14. So OK Welcome to Indiana:

    Please read this article:

    Aria Diagnostics, is now supervising the assembly of as many as 100,000 coronavirus test kits per week—and shipping 50,000 of those to New York City for the next eight weeks. That’s more than the 48,396 tests Indiana had performed—total—since the outbreak began as of Wednesday afternoon.

    Yet Khan says that when he talked to Indiana State Health Commissioner Kristina Box by phone last Thursday, April 9, she declined his offer to provide as many kits as the state needed. She did, however, indicate that the state was short on swabs—so Khan dropped off 2,000 at 7:15 a.m. the following morning.

    Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb acknowledged Wednesday that the state health department had been in contact with Aria about testing, but said a partnership is “not in the plan.” The state’s Joint Information Center says the state health department continues to recommend testing only for those at the highest risk due to “challenges getting testing supplies.”

    “ISDH has been working diligently to expand testing through partnerships with Eli Lilly and the addition of other labs,” the Center wrote in an email on Wednesday. “The number of tests reported to ISDH has increased tenfold in recent weeks, but supplies are still needed in Indiana to expand testing here.”

    Trust has be earned not given. Holcomb is doing his duty as the loyal acolyte of Pastor Pence.

  15. Did it not start publically with Reagan’s assertion that “Government is the problem?” This doctrine has been promoted and believed by the organized and vocalized right since he asserted it. (and before)

  16. Marv,
    “It’s a war. The otherside is entrenched.”

    My little scouting party reports that the other side is no longer entrenched; they are on the attack with everything they have. Fire and movement; flanking attacks; frontal assaults; shock and awe; propaganda; psy-ops; spies; traitors; the entire art of war.

    The questions are: Are we entrenched. Are we on half-assed defense or half-assed offense, because we sure as hell are not on full-throttle offense.

  17. When I was in the business of designing manufacturing processes we learned that before a problem could be really solved we needed to get to the bottom of it, what we called the “root” cause. The process for doing that was repeatedly asking why is that? Typically people whose work was affected by the problem would start with the most obvious impact on their responsibilities but if that was all that we fixed the root problem would just pop up again in other ways so getting to the root cause was the only way to root the real problem out. (See what I did there?)

    What’s the root cause of the chaos we are all cooking in right now? Every day here we read really good analyses of the symptoms of it but I think we all suspect some things more fundamental are at work here that changed the very grounds we walk on.

    At it’s core the root problem that all of these other things are caused by is that the combination of our numbers and our life style is unsustainable by earth, but we are so comfortable (if we don’t look to closely at what’s really going on around us) we don’t want things to change.

    Very, very human of us. However unsustainable means temporary and if we avoid accepting responsibility to manage the transition to permanent that doesn’t make what’s unsustainable permanent, it just makes our contribution to the solution insignificant.

    Now the contribution of some countries is to address the root cause in their corner of the world of the relentlessly growing human population. I always thought that sex was that culprit but apparently smarter people are convinced that it’s poverty.

    Our contribution is not in the numbers but in the life style – our communal competition to demonstrate to all around us that we have out achieved some of them.

    What’s interesting is that the root cause of unsustainable population is poverty and the root cause of unsustainable life style is wealth. Doesn’t that point to a distribution of wealth opportunity? It certainly does but the solution is not simply for those who contribute to the lifestyle problem to write a big check to those who contribute to the numbers problem. That is an unsustainable solution.

    It truly is a monumental problem to solve but a start would be to create and share a model of enough. How do people who contribute to neither problem live? I think that for those of us lucky to travel have seen examples of this balance in our wandering. In fact, I think maybe that I lived it though not recently.

  18. Larry,

    “My little scouting party reports that the other side is no longer entrenched; they are on the attack with everything they have. Fire and movement; flanking attacks; frontal assaults; shock and awe; propaganda; psy-ops; spies; traitors; the entire art of war.”

    You’re right. I just didn’t want to scare everybody. As I mentioned a day or so ago, it’s like the Battle of the Bulge and the German tanks are breaking through without any opposition.

    It’s mind-boggling and our purported leadership is frozen solid.

  19. Larry,

    “The questions are: Are we entrenched. Are we on half-assed defense or half-assed offense, because we sure as hell are not on full-throttle offense.

    We have nothing worthwhile on the offense or the defense. It might be best described as a situation much worse than what happened on December 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor.

    I’ve been trying to explain, without any success on this blog for over five years, that our INTELLIGENCE CAPABILITY has been compromised or better said sold-out by the leadership within the Southern Poverty Law Center, Anti-Defamation League, and Political Research Associates. A year or so ago, Morris Dees, along with his co-partner at the SPLC, were forced to resign and this blog reacted as if nothing had happened.

    I don’t know, advise me, should I laugh or cry?



    You and others on this blog sometimes mention that Trump, or others, are fiddling while Rome burns. I say we’re all f**king while Rome burns.

    Many on this blog complain about the “greediness” of the wealthy for more cash. I say our trouble is the greed of the masses for more love, more social stroking.

    Social Stroking: that is the one that really gets my dander up. I see no moral difference between coveting social strokes and coveting money, unless maybe coveting money is superior to coveting strokes.

    So, again, it boils down to stroking and f**king (if there is a difference) while Rome burns.

    There is a mass inferiority complex that leads to being hooked on stroking. I say that that mass inferiority complex is far worse than Donald Trump’s inferiority complex and likely accounts for the deplorable’s admiration for the lying dude.

    But what causes the mass inferiority complex? I say myths cause it. Religious myths. Racial myths. Superiority myths. Dr. Yuval Noah hits the nail on the head in “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind”, Harper Collins Publishers.

    But I think I’m aware that mass inferiority also causes the development of these myths. So, what we get is the chicken or egg question. Which comes first, the myth or the need for strokes? Meanwhile, we get dueling myths that seem to be out there like star wars robots fighting each other, which means we the masses have only one role to play in this war–the role of cheerleader for our favorite myth, a role we can play between strokes and f**ks. We are mostly incapable of understanding any other role.

    It boils down to philosophy. But the demographic group who identifies as philosophers nowadays is mighty small and is made even smaller by the predominant characteristic of the group –they are merely historical philosophers and can only tell you what other philosophers thought. The philosophers who actually philosophize exceedingly well are exceedingly rare.

    Worse for our situation, the gigantic effect philosophers have on society suffers a very long LAG TIME, usually 60 years or more. I conclude from that lapse in affect and our present lapse in action that the philosophers of the mid-20th century failed us. It was they who gave the late 20th century the green light for Me-Firstism. And no competing option.

    What seems to be missing is that philosopher whose charismatic writing makes cooperation and teamwork sexy and puts Plumber Joe in contact with that ennobling moment when he realizes that: The whole is really beautiful–a golden whole–when it actually does add up to more than the sum of the parts. There are some philosophers who try, but they lack the poetry and the passion. I’m afraid that we must await meaningful improvement in communal living until that philosopher rises among us.

    If you want to join the watch for that philosopher, I recommend tuning in to only those philosophers whose early life was formed by team sports. Few others ever experience first hand the glory of the Golden Whole.

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