How Do We Restore Trust?

Published: October 28, 2020

By Jim Lichtman
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In 2006, I completed a survey entitled, Honesty and Trust in America. While the study took place 14 years ago, the solutions from more than 8,000 Americans are more relevant than ever.

“When it comes to grading the level of trustworthiness of various groups that determine the course of the nation,” I began, “congress received the lowest levels of trustworthiness at 76 percent, with corporate leaders and the president (George W. Bush) tied at 69 percent for low numbers.”

By comparison, “Just 31 percent in a new USA Today/Suffolk University survey said Trump is honest and trustworthy, while 64 percent disagreed. That’s a 2-to-1 ratio against the president’s character,” The Washington Post reports.

“But that still leaves 3 in 10 Americans who believe the president is honest and trustworthy, despite all the fact-checking and patently false claims.”

But it’s not enough to rate the level of trustworthiness of individuals, I wanted to hear solutions to bring about change. So, I drafted three open-ended questions:  What two or three specific changes would have to take place to improve your trust in corporations… government… and America? Many of the 38,000 responses reflect anger, cynicism, humor as well as good ideas.”

And all the write-in responses are just as valid today as they were 14 years ago.

On Government:

“Stop playing politics [and] put the country first.”

“Admit and take responsibility for mistakes.”

“Stop calling each other names and just being nasty to each other for political gain.”

“Better willingness to reach mutual agreement rather than ‘my way is the only way.’”

“Put lie detectors on politicians when they speak and show the results in real time.”

On Corporations:

“CEOs are pocketing way too much.”

“Have unbiased, unannounced audits of the books.”

“Quit treating employees as a disposable asset.”

“Work environments without the fear of reprisal.”

“Firewall them from government officials.”

On Media:

“Eliminate talk radio hosts and TV political pundits.”

“Attach disclaimers to ‘spin.’ ”

“Advertising and the media need to glamorize right behavior.”

“Quit giving so much media attention to people like Donald Trump.” (Apparently, people were tired of him back in 2006!)

Ideas on Change:

“Stigmatize unethical behavior, again.” (We’re still losing that battle.)

“Candid discussion about ethics from top down.” (We’re still losing that battle, too.)

“Dishonesty has to stop being seen as a virtue.”

“Reward individuals who exemplify honesty and trust.”

“General public needs to be less apathetic and expect more of themselves and others.” (Second best response.)

“Set an example of honesty, trust, integrity and ethics in our lives.” (Best response!)

In the final question, “What 2 or 3 specific changes would have to take place in order to improve honesty and trust in America?”, more than 8,000 Americans are telling political and corporate leadership as well as the media just what is needed most to restore trust:

We need more statesmen as leaders.”

We need to make sure that everyone is accountable for their actions —    whether an assembly-line worker or… CEO.”

We need to stop rewarding the most adept liars and cheaters with great wealth and success.”

We need to stop applauding money and start applauding ethics.”

We need a media that… actually does some investigation into important issues not trivial ones.”

“We need less media pundits… [that] do nothing but spread hatred in order to make themselves more popular.”

We need some new heroes… like parents, teachers, [and] community activists.”

We need to hold up people of character as role models.”

We need to show respect for people that are honest even when we may not agree with them.”

We need to remind each other that we are all Americans. That we’re not Republicans or Democrats, Liberal or Conservative, Left or Right.”

We need… leaders who communicate openly with the people.”

“We need leadership that places a high value on honesty, even when they have to pay a high price for it…”  

“…But, it will take special people with great courage and influence, as well as time.”

But let’s try, anyway.

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