Professor Deva Woodly teaches political science at the New School for Social Research in New York. During a recent talk, she shared that trust in our nation’s institutions is at an all-time low. That is, perhaps, why the man who currently holds the title of president-elect was able to prevail in the November election over someone far more qualified. Using Gallup Poll data from June 2016, Professor Woodly noted that the military is our nation’s most trusted institution—73 percent trust them, while our Congress is the least trusted with only 7 percent support. Fifty-six percent of us trust the police, 41 percent trust the church, just 36 percent support the president, and only 23 percent trust organized labor or the criminal justice system. One in five trust television news or newspapers. In a nutshell, it does not appear that we trust anybody!
This lack of trust results in a lack of involvement in civil society. If you don’t trust the church, how involved will you be in it? If you don’t trust your union, will you do much more than pay your dues? Only two in five trust the medical profession—do you believe your doctors? Just one in four of us trust banks. If we don’t trust institutions, do we trust each other? And if we don’t trust each other, how do we come together to organize, to resist the corrosiveness of the callous, racist, misogynistic leadership that Mr. Trump offers our nation.
The man has no regard for the truth, and he has pandered to our collective mistrust by describing everything as “rigged.” Now he is saying that he really won the popular vote because “millions” of people voted fraudulently. He has no proof of it, and he ought to be ashamed for lying, except for if he had any shame he never would have run for president. Between fake news and mistrust, there are those who believe him, which further erodes institutional trust. Our nation is on a downward spiral, and there is no soft landing unless we rediscover the ways we once connected, and revive them.
Professor Woodly and I joined Michael Eric Dyson and Columbia University professor and moderator Fred Harris in a New School-sponsored panel on Obama, Race and Politics. Anyone who has read Dyson or me would not be surprised at our analysis. Fred Harris, too, has written about the Obama presidency in his book, “The Price of the Ticket: Barack Obama and the Rise and Fall of Black Politics” (Oxford University Press, 2012). Professor Woodly’s analysis stood out for me, though, because she talked about community distrust and ways it disconnects people from politics, the polls, and outcomes.
Too many people thought that their actions had no consequences, and that whatever they did had no meaning. Their impressions may have been shaped by the smugness many of us saw coming from the Clinton campaign that behaved as if their victory was inevitable. Just 107,000 votes in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania separated Hillary Clinton from victory. Recounts are not likely to sway the election, and the “if I coulda, woulda, shoulda” post-mortem around the resources that should have been used to energize the base makes no difference now. The fact is that Clinton should have won this election. She didn’t, because the village she says it takes to save a child has been fractured. Instead of talking to each other, too many are texting each other. Instead of talking to voters, the Clinton campaign was spending millions on ads that vilified Trump instead of lifting up Clinton.