Gathering discusses Americans' lost confidence
From: National Catholic Reporter
Date: July 25, 2016
Author: Tom Roberts
... The latest Gallup poll of Americans' confidence in institutions, released in June, shows that confidence in all institutions, slumping for the past decade, has continued to bottom out. Confidence in newspapers and organized religion is at record lows.
While such evidence of declining trust has been baked into the polling data for years, it was the continual thrum of headlines and stories documenting the results of those divisions that caught the attention of Andrew Yeo and Matthew Green, two professors in the department of politics at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
"It was depressing when you opened the newspapers and saw the headlines and read the stories," Yeo said in an interview with NCR.
He began having informal discussions with colleagues when the headlines were mainly about what was happening in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore, disturbing events related to race and police killings of young black men. A lack of trust seemed also to define American politics, with the divisiveness in Congress and the discord between parties, and it was long a characteristic of international politics, where trust was a rare commodity among nation states.
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At the same time, it quickly became clear that trust could mean very different things. How Yeo, who specializes in international relations, looks at trust or distrust among nation states would be vastly different, for instance, from how an anthropologist or psychologist would consider the concept when studying communities or individuals. Among friends, trust usually means something other than trust among political entities or governmental agencies.
"We look at trust in different ways," said Yeo, "and we may end up speaking past one another."
Green, focused on the Congress and its inability to move significantly on most issues, said he was more concerned about the lack of trust among members of that institution than he was about people's lack of trust in the institution as a whole.
"It's one thing if Americans don't trust their institutions -- in theory they could vote new people in. But if the people there don't trust each other," he said, "you can have an institutional culture develop that is particularly damaging because if you have an institutional culture that's full of distrust, it can't work."
Stephen McKenna, associate professor and chair of media studies, warned against concluding too much from opinion polls about the perception of an increase in distrust. "They tell us nothing definitive about the actual levels of change in social trust. The polls are merely opinions," he said.
He warned, too, against "commonplace journalistic and academic narratives assuming erosions of trust and, even more worrisomely, perhaps implying policy remedies." ...