By the Election 2020 Academy Working Group including fellows, John Kamensky, Lisa Blomgren Amsler, John Bryson, Anne Khademian, Carolyn Lukensmeyer, F. Stevens Redburn, Michelle Sager, Antoinette Samuel, Kathy Stack.
Our country faces a crisis of national confidence in its governance processes. This crisis has deep roots that have grown silently for several decades. A recent report by a national Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship identified “a fragmented media environment, profound demographic shifts, artificial intelligence and other technological advances, economic inequality, centralized power, and climate change” as contributing to this crisis. And these stressors have reached a crescendo this year – a presidential impeachment trial; the nation’s fitful response to the health, economic, and societal impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic; and widespread protests in virtually every corner of our country in response to police brutality toward Black Americans. Each of these has brought into a clearer focus the roots of our crisis of confidence—including poorly performing institutions and social inequity—that hinder our ability to address challenges in an effective and efficient manner.
The commission concludes: “Overall distrust of the federal government has become a persistent marker of American politics. . . . More recently, our trust in one another has also begun to show signs of decline. . . Yet the data also show that Americans do not accept this state of affairs. . . Eighty-four percent of Americans think that the level of confidence we have in the government can be improved, and 86 percent think that we can improve the level of trust we have in one another.”
The public’s trust in government has been declining for decades. Restoring Americans’ trust in democratic government will be a long-term effort. This paper, and a companion piece, offer an agenda to help change the way we govern and engage as citizens. We see this as foundational to longer-term efforts to restore trust in government that has been frayed by performance failures and can, at times, itself become a barrier to effective governance.
In addition to the long-term trend of declining trust in government, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted near-term weaknesses in our governance structure to work collaboratively across agencies, levels of government, and sectors of society. The literature shows that collaboration is founded, in part, on trust.The pandemic’s exposure of this weakness gives us further reason to try to reimagine the way the federal government and its partners can jointly address large-scale challenges.
One way to restore public trust would be to develop new, more effective governance approaches to the biggest and most complex problems facing our country and society.
Please visit the Election 2020 Homepage for more action plans.