- - Monday, December 12, 2016

Donald Trump ran a populist campaign of distrusting our institutions, and no institution was exempt from that distrust – not the CIA, not the generals, not the Federal Reserve, not Congress, and not even the institution of the presidency itself. While a populist campaign was successful in winning a nomination and an election, it does grievous harm to the nation for a president to distrust America’s institutions.

As president-elect, Trump’s latest fight with the CIA threatens national security in two ways– directly, by undermining and alienating the intelligence community – and indirectly, by eroding public confidence in yet another institution.

Americans already don’t trust their institutions, and they trust them less and less as time goes on. It is dangerous to American democracy for a president to promote the troubling national trend of declining confidence in its institutions.

Gallup polls have measured the declining American confidence in their institutions for years. It’s most recent poll shows that trust remains at historic lows. Public trust in banks, Congress, news media and organized religion fell the most over the past decade.

Congress is the least trusted institution of all. The majority of those polled have at lease “some” trust in all but one institution. Congress – the body comprised of our elected leaders – has the disgraceful distinction of being the only institution that arouses little or no confidence in a majority of Americans.

Many factors help explain the loss of faith in institutions. Failing institutions are often corrupt and broken. Banks and government lost the public it injured in the housing bubble of 2007-08 and the financial crisis that followed for years, leaving a trail of home losses, personal bankruptcies, and unemployment in its wake. The scandals that ripped through the Catholic Church and those involving other religious denominations engendered contempt for organized religion.

The exaggerated role of money in politics, the power of lobbyists to make laws favoring special interests, all add to public distrust.

But perhaps the largest, overriding factor is that ours is an age of enormous and rapid change. Institutions have not figured out how to adapt to the breathtaking pace of social, demographic and technological change.

The incoming president’s challenge is to help institutions find the adaptations that will make them effective and trustworthy again.

Without trust in our institutions, democracy cannot flourish. Citizens need to believe in the institutions on which they depend. And they need leaders who believe in them.

Our nation needs its incoming president to strengthen its institutions, both in and out of government, not to demean them and undermine them. The power of the presidency should be applied to the challenge of helping institutions grow more competent, more transparent, and more deserving of public trust.

President-elect Trump, the time to distrust and tear down is over. You won the election. Now is the time to build trust in the institutions of the country you lead.

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