Joseph Stiglitz wrote an editorial which appeared in the New York Times on December 21st, in which he remarked with chagrin at what he views as the erosion of trust among Americans. In large part, he ascribed this to a growing economic gap between what is commonly referred to as “the 1%” and the rest of America.
Without debating the relative merits of his identified causes, I submit that Americans do have a basic “trust” in each other – if by that one means the confidence that most people will pay their bills, abide by their promises, or fulfill their contracts. But I think the problem is deeper than economic inequality and it is reflected in our political and social debates, playing out across all media, every day. What distresses me is the extent to which Americans now seem to believe the worst about each other generally, even in the face of ample proof to the contrary.
The ongoing demonization of the Tea Party is one example of this. News articles and commentary routinely paint conservative Americans with false and inaccurate labels: “racists,” “sexists,” “selfish,” etc. I’m sure it’s possible to find a truly malevolent human being who happens to identify with some principles of smaller government or fiscal responsibility. But the overwhelming majority of “Tea Partiers” are Americans who pay their bills, raise their children, volunteer at schools, worship as they wish (or don’t), start and run businesses, employ people, give charitably and otherwise lead their lives. They are your neighbors, your friends, your co-workers, the owners of your community’s businesses, the parents of your children’s friends.
This is just as true of Americans on the left side of the political equation. Having worked in the entertainment business or in higher education since 1988, most of my friends and colleagues have tended to be to the left of me politically. These are not “anarchists” or “libertines” who are seeking the destruction of western civilization. They, too, are hard workers, compassionate colleagues, loyal friends. They pay their mortgages, love their spouses, raise their children, go to swim meets and soccer games, volunteer for committees, participate in local charities. These are your neighbors, your friends, your colleagues, the teachers of your children.
Laura Hollis is an Associate Professional Specialist and Concurrent Associate Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame, where she teaches entrepreneurship and business law. She is the author of the forthcoming publication, “Start Up, Screw Up, Scale Up: What Government Can Learn From the Best Entrepreneurs,” © 2014. Her opinions are her own, and do not reflect the position of the university. Follow her on Twitter: @LauraHollis61.