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Trust and Resilience - BCB #4
"Not quite so binary"
In this issue, we look at how trust in institutions and people produces resilience to crisis. Plus, stereotyping and violence following SCOTUS on Roe v. Wade, clarity in opinion content, and what declining trust means for schools.
Declining Trust in Institutions and People
If you feel as if you’ve lost trust in institutions, you’re not out of step. According to the UN, trust in police forces, governments, and the media is trending downward in many developed nations. In the US alone, trust in the national government was fell from 73% in 1953 to 24% in 2021.
This phenomenon is even more pronounced among the young, and it has affected attitudes towards higher education, the scientific process, and even social media platforms. Distrust in institutions doesn’t exist in a vacuum; we don’t trust one another on a one-to-one level, and fear that others are not as reliable as they used to be.
Trust produces resilience to crisis, as we explore below through different countries’ response to COVID. Trust is what allows us to ride over the rough spots, assume good faith, and work together to de-escalate a conflict. On a personal level, the rebuilding of trust requires listening, apologies, conscientiousness, and open communication.
The SCOTUS decision has divided the country between despair and elation, and our responses are likely to divide us further. We propose two simple personal strategies for the days and weeks ahead: resist the urge to stereotype people based on where they stand, and carefully source and verify any reports of violence.
“Only 8 percent of adults say abortion should be against the law in all cases, without exception, while just 19 percent say abortion should be legal in all cases, without exception.” Meanwhile, 54 percent think it should be legal in some cases. So while it is true that 78% of Americans think abortion should be legal at least sometimes, it’s also true that 64% think it should be prohibited at least sometimes. And when you start asking people which circumstances make the difference or why they think this, it gets way more complicated still.
In the days ahead we will be sorely tempted to put the people we know into boxes based on exactly one bit of information: are they pro or anti? But the reality is that most Americans think in intricate shades of gray. Don’t destroy your own social fabric for the sake of a stereotype; here’s how to have a better conversation about abortion.
Last month, a random blog called “Jane’s Revenge” called for violence if Roe v. Wade fell. In the last few days larger outlets have mentioned it, and its existence is now being used to ground claims of impending Blue violence. This is a detailed case study of how violence narratives propagate, but it also reads rather anti-Red — in our conflicted information environment, the fastest and most detailed sources are often also the most ideologically excited. For this reason, it’s our Most Conflicted Selection. Compare to this more careful report on threats of violence (from both sides, though perhaps more from Red), or even this sober DHS memo.
Be careful with what information you trust at this moment, to avoid making tense situations needlessly worse. Here’s a guide to online verification in emergency situations.
With social media platforms offering instant takes and trust in media bottoming out, The Minneapolis Star Tribune has taken to clearly labeling opinion pieces as such because readers “consume opinion content and genuinely confuse it with straight news.” News bias is much more complicated than just failing to label an editorial– for example, what an outlet choses to cover or not cover – but the decision to include an author’s bio increases transparency, often considered a key aspect of trust.
Red parents have been increasingly sending “Right to Know” requests to New Hampshire public schools, asking for information on pandemic policies and precisely what is being taught. This is a new burden on school staff, who wonder why parents are filing official requests rather than making a phone call. Distrust costs in all sorts of ways.
In Depth: Trust and Resilience
20 Years of Trust - Richard Edelman
The Edelman Trust Barometer is a comprehensive, international survey on trust that has been running since 2000. It documents a general decline in institutional trust during that time, but the details are significant. For example, institutional trust has actually increased for the well educated and the wealthy, while falling for everyone else, a phenomenon they label “trust inequality.” Meanwhile, businesses are now the most trusted institution in international averages (61%), ahead of NGOs (59%), government (52%) and media (50%).
Researchers are asking why some countries were better prepared for covid. One surprising answer: Trust - Adam Taylor
Trust in government and trust in each other are the strongest predictors of how well each country responded to COVID, in terms of reported cases and deaths. Not GDP or health spending or government type or some other variable. There’s a bunch more research that tells a similar story here and here, A related study shows that, no matter the political system, populism leads to a lack of trust in science.
Perhaps it’s time for public health to concentrate on bridge building. Professor Heidi Larson, founder of The Vaccine Confidence Project, recently encouraged Yale Public Health grads to “be good listeners and trust builders” because “we are going to need to calm and rebuild a more hopeful and optimistic rather than angry and anxious public.”
Accusations of politicization of the Supreme Court aren’t new, but they’re new enough for this piece to ask if the fraught nomination process is undermining the court’s legitimacy and ability to decide fairly on the questions set before it. Data on judgements on close cases shows that justices don’t always hew to the parties of the presidents who nominated them. That gap, however, is closing. What’s at risk here, Epstein says, is the increasing perception of the court as a political body, which places judicial independence at risk.
The G Word- Sonia Rio
This Netflix show attempts to increase trust in government simply by documenting and criticizing what it actually does, in areas such as food production, defense, and disaster response. It’s in part a series of interviews with Obama, and this is both its strength and its weakness. The show sometimes does put Obama in the hot seat, but only from the point of view that his time in office didn’t result in enough progressive change. The former President says in one episode that “we don’t want a situation where an all-powerful, all-knowing individual or small set of individuals are able to make decisions for everybody.”
Quote of the Week
“It is important to understand that the ‘public’ is not one single, homogenous entity. Publics are hugely heterogeneous, with multiple histories, beliefs, political stances and emotions…And all of those factors influence a public’s willingness to cooperate – or not – for the ‘greater good.’” -Heidi Larson
Thanks for reading!
Mary-Beth Ellis - reporter
Jonathan Stray - editor