Ten theses on trust

American trust once benefited from a widely shared and celebrated public story of who we are as a people and what America stands for. No longer. Trust can also be harmed when social problems once largely denied or hidden from view—for example, sexual abuse—become publicly known and are addressed.

Millions of children grow up today separated from their fathers, and Judith Wallerstein and others have shown that a major consequence of family disruption is children’s loss of trust in their fathers. When you can’t or don’t trust the first important man in your life, trusting especially those in authority becomes less likely to occur. Distrust, like trust, begins close in and spreads from there.

Few occurrences destroy trust in our political institutions as quickly as public lying, something that seems to have increased in recent decades. Institutions that openly abandon professional standards as part of creating and profiting from polarization, such as most of today’s media, could hardly do more to destroy trust if they wanted to. These are hammer blows against soft wood.