By Stephen Smoot
Early last month, Gallup released its yearly poll on institutions that Americans either trust or not. Surveys get taken yearly during the month of June.
The top five institutions trusted by Americans each year since 2021 have been, in order, small business, the military, the police, the medical system, and “the church or organized religion.” Top five does not automatically mean overwhelmingly trusted. While small business garners at least two thirds of Americans’ trust, less than a third trust the fifth place, organized religion.
The bottom five, again in order, are newspapers, the criminal justice system, television news, big business, and Congress. Newspapers currently have the trust of less than one in five, Congress has a whopping tally of a trust percentage of eight percent.
Of the 16 institutions named, only organized religion, the presidency, the United States Supreme Court, newspapers, the criminal justice system, television news, and Congress have managed to increase in trust since 2022. Every institution lost trust between 2021 and 2022. Only small business and the military enjoy the support of well over half of the population.
Trust in public schools, which in the last century generally remained high, dropped from 32 percent in 2021 to 26 percent currently. Curriculum controversies, consistent national decline in test scores and other measureables since 1980 (the establishment date of the US Department of Education), the continuing sexual abuse scandals, and pandemic policies have eroded trust in public schools. At the same time, laws providing easier paths to alternative and home education have given parents more options than ever.
It must be noted that, like the Congress support paradox, people may love their own children’s or local schools, while bemoaning the state of public schools in general. Many also tend to have strong positive feelings about their own senators and representatives while disliking Congress as a body.
Trust in the presidency as an institution sat just under 40 percent in 2021, but hovers just above 25 percent today.
The American public has a dilemma with most of its major institutions. In most cases, people and society in general have to trust these institutions for them to operate effectively, much less at full potential.
America needs these institutions but, for the most part, these institutions have given many reasons to not trust. The medical system’s 10 point drop in trust, from 44 to 34 percent in two years, reflects the honesty issues related to the government, medical, and scientific community’s response to the pandemic. The Supreme Court, on the other hand, has performed as it should and has remained relatively honest, but many disapprove of the results of their work.
The problem of trust comes from multiple issues. Institutions have lied. They have covered up. They have put their own interests ahead of their mission. They have sought to inject ideologies and agendas hostile to the values of much of the country into their work, then insult and condemn those who dare to disagree.
It takes years, often decades, to build a high level of trust. It takes only a few, sometimes just one, incident to break that trust.
Those who have lost the trust must put in the hard work to get it back. That starts with respecting the people enough to not try to manipulate or mislead, despite the intentions behind it. Almost no public policy short of national security deserves a “bodyguard of lies” to make it work.
Those fortunate few institutions that Americans do trust must not take that privilege for granted, or risk it on lies, manipulation, or foolishness.