Home > Uncategorized > Rebuild and Renovate Schools, Reach for the Stars to Restore Faith in Democracy

Rebuild and Renovate Schools, Reach for the Stars to Restore Faith in Democracy

February 14, 2021

NOTE: This is a heavily edited version of an earlier post that I submitted for consideration to the local newspaper. 

A recent op ed by NYTimes columnist Charles Blow included a link to a July 2019 Pew Charitable Trust study on the levels of trust Americans have in government and in each other. Mr. Blow’s column examined the data by racial categories, concluding that Black Americans’ reluctance to take vaccines is a result of their distrust in the government and their fellow Americans.

In reviewing the Pew data, however, I was astonished to find an even greater disparity in trust levels among generations, a disparity that leads to a more dire problem for the future of our country. As the chart below indicates, younger generations have progressively higher levels of distrust and lower levels of trust than my 65+ generation. This is a problem because as our numbers diminish— as they surely will, the level of trust among all Americans will decline.

I am not at all surprised at these findings. My 65+ cohort came of age after the end of a World War where democracy prevailed over totalitarianism and an economy where our parents lived in relative affluence after growing up in the Great Depression. During the two decades when my generation came of age, the 50s and 60s, our governments constructed thousands of miles of interstate highways, built thousands of new houses and hundreds of public schools, hired thousands of workers, put a man on the moon, and passed legislation to put an end to segregation and poverty.

Those in the 50-65 cohort grew up in more troubled times. In the early 1970s our military left Viet Nam without a victory and the Pentagon Papers revealed the government’s actions that led us into that conflict. We also experienced Nixon’s Watergate break-in and cover-up, conflicts over school desegregation in the North and the South, and Ronald Reagan’s rise to power based on the premise that “government was the problem”. We began hearing the message that paying any taxes was a burden, that all regulations were “cumbersome” and “job-killing”, and welfare— lending a helping hand to those in need— would create a class of dependents. It is no surprise that the trust in the government and each other diminished during that era.

Those in the 30-49 generation heard Reagan’s anti-Government message throughout their lifetimes and lived through a succession of divisive political campaigns, saw an to end “welfare as we know it”, heard an insistence that we needed to “reinvent government”, outsource jobs, and downsize bureaucracies in business and government. President Bill Clinton’s conduct in office and the subsequent attacks on him by the GOP further diminished the nation’s confidence in the presidency and government in general. Given all that happened in their formative years, it is not surprising that trust in the government and in each other diminished.

But trust plummeted even lower for the 18-29 generation of voters, who not only grew up with the anti-government rhetoric of previous generations, but lived through the Columbine shootings and 9-11. During their youth, Americans were convinced that they needed to be on guard every minute of every day: that 24-7 surveillance was necessary to avoid a repeat of the terrorists’ attack of the Twin Towers and schools needed armed guards, locked doors and mounted cameras to avoid invasions by shooters. In such a fear driven environment, it is unsurprising that our trust in each other was undercut. The governments’ gridlock from 2010 onward contributed to the lack of faith in government and since the survey was administered it is unlikely that the management of the pandemic over the past year helped restore the youngest voters’ faith in the government. Nor is the pending acquittal of President Trump likely to help.

There was some good news in the Pew Survey: “More than eight-in-ten Americans (84%) believe it is possible to improve the level of confidence people have in the government.” Notwithstanding all that has happened since that survey was completed in 2019, as a 65+ “high truster”, I am hopeful that Joe Biden and other elected officials across the country will be able to restore the younger generations’ faith in the government and their trust in each other. One step voters could take is to support the rebuilding our infrastructure, an action that would require more government spending at all levels. Growing up in post-World War II America it felt like the community was looking out for us. Our local and state governments built us new schools and ball fields and volunteers helped underwrite and staff community centers and swimming pools. Service clubs bought our little league teams new uniforms and supported clubs at school.  Parents and community members coached us, directed plays, advised clubs at the YMCA, and filled the bleachers at sporting events. We heard that the future of our country depended on US and saw tangible evidence that the community believed it.

If we want the next generation to have greater trust in the government and in each other, we need to show children they are our future. When politicians say children are important but fail to raise enough taxes to provide the money needed for all of them to attend a decent school, live in a decent home, or have sufficient food it is no surprise that they think the government is failing them and adults and politicians cannot be trusted. If we want to build trust in future generations, we need to invest accordingly.

  1. Byron Knutsen
    February 14, 2021 at 8:37 pm

    There is, I believe, one item that is sadly missing from the reasons the younger generation do not have the faith in the government. And that is the lack of development of faith in people as they grew up because the right and privilege to prayer to a god were removed from schools. The saying of prayer is nothing more than the exercise of faith in an external power. It can be easily done without offending others. Now days, we are told, just give us your money and we will take care of all your needs. Any type of government can not replace faith, at least what has been seen recently ( and that means more than Trump).

    My father had a thought he put on the blackboard in the front of his classroom each day. They were not prayers, just good action thoughts on how to look at the world and people in it. I wonder if they were used today………. Definitely we should not offend anyone, but we see many of the results of cutting out faith to our younger generation.

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