The Winter of Our Disagreement? Has Trust Disappeared?

By Stella Lemper-Talatsky
By Stella Lemper-Talatsky

We welcome Stella Lemper-Tabatsky as a guest blogger. Stella is an undergraduate student from New York City, entering her fourth year at the University of Pennsylvania, studying English and French. She is currently interning at The Writer’s Grotto, in San Francisco. Stella’s first blog for The Craftsmanship Initiative explores the lack of trust that seems to be permeating our culture.

Last week, when former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush jointly addressed the 2017 graduates of the Presidential Leadership Scholars Program, Clinton delivered an interesting message. He argued that the best political initiatives aren’t made by whichever group you happen to favor—they come out of a multiplicity of viewpoints.

“One of the things that’s wrong with America today, that bothers me more than anything else about our future, is that we have separated ourselves into like-minded communities,” Clinton said. “We may be less racist, homophobic and sexist…but we don’t want to be around very many people who disagree with us normally… And, the truth is, in an interdependent, complex world, diverse groups make better decisions than homogenous ones.”

Clinton’s sentiments—and the acrimonious political divide that prompted them—are exactly why we led the Spring issue of Craftsmanship Quarterly with a story entitled, “The Architecture of Trust.” To find answers, our author, Michael Erard, surveyed a range of groups specializing in “civic dialogue,” especially some unusually enterprising work done by a Florida organization called the Village Square Neighborhood Project. If you missed it, please read his story here.

Building Trust

From L to R: The Pastor (Darrick McGhee), the diversity activist (Inam Sakinah) and the Rabbi (Jack Romberg). “These three people are about as politically opposite as you can be,” says Village Square director Liz Joyner. “Now they are about as deep and fast friends as you can be.” photo by Bob Howard, courtesy of Village Square.

In light of Clinton’s remarks, we’d like to add two reflections on Erard’s story. First, the lack of cross-political dialogue and mutual trust is not as new as many of us think. A study by the Pew Research Center showed that as early as 2014, the level of distrust between liberals and conservatives was intense, deep, and almost equivalent. (Pew’s study found 81% of liberals distrusted Fox News while 75% of conservatives distrusted MSNBC.) It’s also worth noting that four of the news sources distrusted by majorities of conservatives happen to be among those that are most trusted by everyone Pew polled.

Before the last possibilities of civil discourse go up in rhetorical flames, each of us might take a moment to consider where we stand on today’s ideological spectrum. One of the most thoughtful experts cited in Michael Erard’s article is the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who co-created an online assessment of “political morality” called “Explore Your Morals.” If you don’t mind spending a few minutes to register, the top item on the subsequent page offers a reading on your moral compass that might surprise you. See for yourself here.