Trust ... But Definitely Verify

By Lee H. Hamilton | January 8, 2014 | Of all the numbers thrown at us over the course of last year, one stands out for me. I ferven...

By Lee H. Hamilton | January 8, 2014 |

Of all the numbers thrown at us over the course of last year, one stands out for me. I fervently hope we can avoid repeating it this year.

That number is 12. It’s the percentage of Americans in a December Quinnipiac poll who said they trust the government in Washington to do what is right most or all of the time. It’s a depressingly small number — especially compared to the 41 percent who say they “hardly ever” trust the government. On top of that, a few months ago an AP poll found that fewer than a third of Americans trust one another. The poll’s message is clear: our society is in the midst of a crisis in trust.

Trust is essential to our political system and our way of life. The belief that people and institutions will do what they say they will do is the coin of the realm in our society. It is what allows people to work together — in their daily interactions with others and in their communities, legislatures and Congress. Negotiation, compromise, collegiality, and the mechanisms our complex and diverse society depends upon are impossible without trust.

You could argue that we see all around us the results of our trust deficit. Government dysfunction, an economy performing below its potential, public officials’ scandals and misdeeds, trusted institutions’ willingness to skirt the law and standards of good conduct, our social safety net under attack because people mistrust recipients — all of these speak to a society struggling as trust weakens.

Yet here’s the question. Do the polls match your experience? In my case, they do not. Trust is still a big part of my dealings with institutions and individuals, most of whom are good people trying to live a decent life and to be helpful to others. Trust may have weakened, but most of us do not see or experience a corrupt America. A sense of community remains crucially important to make this country safe and secure for ourselves and our children.

Events in recent years have given us plenty of reason to be distrustful. Clearly, healthy skepticism is warranted in the wake of the NSA revelations and other evidence of government and corporate misbehavior.

In the end, however, “trust but verify” is still the golden standard. Our ability to function and move forward as a society rests on trust. Think about it.

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

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Michael said...

Lee Hamilton is a poor choice for poster-child of trust.
Hamilton was the House chairman of Foreign Affairs and the Intelligence committees.
He is an official, bipartisan apologist for the 911 and Iraq imbroglios.
He is a member of the Partnership for a Secure America, an old-line gathering of hard-core national security electeds, wonks, writers, appointeds and commentators.
Lee Hamilton wants his cake and to eat it, too.
Hamilton preaches that all we have to do is get Dems and Repubs to agree.
I thought those were the folks who were least trusted!!!

Anonymous said...

The "Trust but Verify" sure sounds swell but getting the data to perform the verification is, by no means, easy - particularly when it is guarded under the cloak of "national security." Even when we do get the data, large data sets are not in an easily analyzed format (hard to analyze: pdf and jpg. easy to analyze: xls, csv).
Anyway, the point of my rant here is that we have a LONG way to go before we can easily verify our ability to trust the government. So, thanks, Lee Hamilton.. thanks for the healthy serving of pablum.

Sanjay Verma said...

I feel the aspect of trust in political arena needs to be analysed,and researched deeply.Our focus it seems is more on organisational trust.If there is trsut deficit in political system,it has impact on organisations too.So 'Political trust' is a broader issue.In India where the contradictions of democracy are huge,trust deficit is a big issue for the political system to tackle.With the rise of Aam Aadmi Party,whose trust quotinet is more aligned with people's yearnings,it appears that trust deficit in the political system is getting bridged to some extent.But,ultimately the performance of the parties,including AAP,is the real taste of people's trust in the political system.
Sanjay Verma

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