America is troubled today by the crippling consequences of distrust. Polls have reported a steadily growing distrust of government for many decades. Like a cancer, the problem has now spread throughout American culture.
Do we imagine that constructive problem-solving—or an orderly and prosperous future—can be possible without trust?
Americans have always been a contentious lot. Yet we have remained loyal to the vision and ideals of the founders, for better or worse.
Many of you share my view that our future depends, first and foremost, on the bulwark of stability and justice that is the Constitution. However, the Constitution depends on the expectations the founders had of the integrity and character of future Americans.
“Everyone involved in the creation of the United States,” writes Charles Murray, “knew that its success depended on virtue in its citizenry – not gentility, but virtue.”
James Madison was explicit: “To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people is a chimerical [wildly fanciful] idea.”
Patrick Henry was equally forceful: “No free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue.”
And, in his farewell address George Washington famously said: “Virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.”
These words of wisdom are quoted in Charles Murray’s book, “Coming Apart”. “In their various ways”, he comments, “the founders recognized that if a society is to remain free, self-government refers first of all to individual citizens governing their own behavior.”
A reader of this blog has commented further that, “America is at a tipping point because every tenet [and] moral fiber of this nation has been diminished, so that no one is held accountable. [There is] no moral compass because the foundations are removed.”
We do not have to agree on details to recognize the truth in this. Yet, we cannot wait for somebody else to fix it. In America accountability falls to ourselves.
Only in community can the true essence of accountability be fully understood. Here the integrity of trustworthy interpersonal relations cannot be avoided.
Honest relationships can be hard work, but when the going gets tough relationships count.
I don’t just mean engaging with our next-door neighbors, as important as this is. If we find ourselves under threat, directly or indirectly, the last thing we need is neighbors down the road or over the hill who are an unknown quantity.
And, we are not simply concerned about making acquaintances here. This is not about borrowing a cup of sugar over the back fence. To make our communities safe and to rebuild the nation we need dependability. And that means trust.
OK, to be quite honest, building trust is not something that Americans know much about. Mostly we don’t believe in it any more.
In my previous post I reminded readers that social stability, justice, and effective governance all depend on trust. Without this assurance, liberty and justice will remain elusive and the fabric of this nation will continue to disintegrate.
Trust is the substance of integrity. It is essential for building a future we can believe in.
Yet, we cannot start trusting people simply because we wish for it. The social reality we live in is decidedly untrustworthy. Many people do not have a clear concept of what trust means, much less an understanding of why it is important or what to do about it.
Change will take time and patience. We can expect a steep learning curve.
Building honest and reliable relationships with our neighbors calls for grit and determination. We will win a few and lose a few, but the ones we win will buy us a degree of security—and move the nation forward.
This can only be learned face-to-face, and with the courage to engage fully, to overcome mistakes, and to accept one another as whole persons in all our complexity.
We are adults. We learn by doing. Let’s not deny ourselves the maturity of forbearance and kindliness.
Each must decide if the future matters, and then join with others to make it decent, dependable, and real.
You may watch for the next post on or about August 25.