Commentary: Rebuilding Trust in Our Government

There are reasons that people lose trust.  The underlying causes while obvious are worth stating.  Examples of trust eroding behaviors include poor responsiveness, disrespect, little to no follow through on commitments, lies (big and small), cheating, self-serving behaviors, double standards, manipulations, and the deflection and dodging of responsibility.  When these are coupled with a lack of accountability and an ineffective process for repairing the damage caused by the untrustworthy behaviors, trust cannot be rebuilt.

 

 

Sadly, we are at a point where our trust in the government is very low.  This is substantiated by the second annual Colorado Political Climate Survey.  The survey was released in January of 2018.  It was conducted by the American Politics Research Lab at the University of Colorado Boulder.  800 Coloradans were surveyed.  They were asked to rate the federal, state and local government.

Between 2016 and 2017, for the most part, the level of approval and trust for all the governmental entities dropped, while the disapproval and distrust levels increased.  For 2017, only 10% of respondents said they trusted the federal government most of the time or always, only 36% of respondents said this about the state government, and only 38% of respondents said so about the local government.

Any relationship with such low levels of trust and approval would not last – whether it is a business, a friendship, a marriage, or a church or other community organizations.

We are seeing different ways that this distrust is playing out. Voter apathy has increased over time.  We are also experiencing some reactive responses that have lead to the election of a president who has little knowledge of our constitution.

Examples of trust eroding behaviors abound from the local to the federal level of government.

Examples of poor responsiveness are apparent at the DMV, passport and other government agencies.  Wait times are long, even for those who have made appointments.

An example of disrespect is the disregard for the time of jurors and parties involved in court cases.  These people are told to show up at an appointed hour, and sometimes are released or told to come back at another time, after waiting up to a full day, because the public prosecutors are not ready.

We can observe manipulations and lies when watching and listening to responses made by officials and politicians, when they are asked poignant questions.  It is not unheard of that the responses are sometimes outright lies, redacted reports that are offered months after they are asked for, or unrelated answers that take away attention from the issue.  Fact checker services expose the unsettling number of lies told by career officials and politicians.  When we closely watch and listen to interviews, the indirect, unrelated, delayed  and obscure answers to questions become apparent.

Then, there are the double standards and lack of accountability perpetuated by our “public servants”,  A great example of this is the misleadingly named Congressional Accountability Act of 1995.  Under this law, $17 million of public funds were used to settle sexual harassment and other discrimination charges against lawmakers and aides, as the lawmakers and aides identities were protected.  I would like to believe that such protection of “public servants” is in only limited to congress.  Yet, my educated guess tells me that public funds are likely used to settle cases involving the impropriety of other local, state and federal officials.

We cannot do the same thing over and over again and expect different results – as is stated by a quote that is commonly and possibly misattributed to Albert Einstein.

We also cannot wait for others to change. Nor can we expect those who perpetuate distrustful actions, to police themselves or check their behaviors.  As a good friend of mine says, we must accept that liars lie, manipulators manipulate and cheaters cheat.

By naming and accepting facts, connecting to our values, clearly identifying the resources we have, we can create plans to affect change.

As a listener, I ask you what do you need to rebuild the trust in those who are supposed to be your “public servants”? and, what are you willing to do to ensure a trustworthy government and society?

Here are some guiding questions that are modified from the questions asked in restorative processes.  These are:

What happened? namely what specific behaviors and actions have resulted in harm and the break down of trust? what were the intentions behind those actions?

Jessica Dancingheart is a personal and organizational consultant. Find out more at www.openingtopossibilities.com.