In Zero We Trust….

Trust is the foundation of pretty much everything.

Without trust, it’s hard to have either a personal or business relationship.

It’s also hard to build a civil society, because lack of trust undermines the willingness of citizens to engage and get involved.

This week, the Edelman Trust Survey was released and while the results were not surprising, the findings were pretty dismal.

The public’s trust in key societal organizations—government, business and the media, has taken a nosedive from already low levels.

The decline in trust in government was greatest, falling 14 percentage points, while trust in business fell 10 points, NGOs (non-governmental organizations) 9 points, and media 5 points. The survey was taken before this week’s brief government shutdown and can kicking to early February.  The last time this stunt was pulled the U.S. economy lost an estimated $20 billion…that’s billion with a b.

The survey was conducted in 28 nations and none experienced the decline in trust that the U.S. has endured.

“The United States is enduring an unprecedented crisis of trust,” said Richard Edelman, president and CEO of the communications firm that conducts the survey. “This is the first time that a massive drop in trust has not been linked to a pressing economic issue or catastrophe like the Fukushima nuclear disaster. In fact, it’s the ultimate irony that it’s happening at a time of prosperity, with the stock market and employment rates in the U.S. at record highs.”

The root cause of the fall, says Edelman: lack of objective facts and rational discourse in the U.S.

To see the full report visit this link:

No country saw steeper declines than the United States, with a 37-point aggregate drop in trust across all institutions. At the opposite end of the spectrum, China experienced a 27-point gain, more than any other country. I find that odd, but I guess all the Communist Party has to do is demand trust in order to get it.

The collapse of trust in the U.S. is driven by a staggering lack of faith in government, which fell 14 points to 33 percent among the general population, and 30 points to 33 percent among the informed public. The remaining institutions of business, media and NGOs also experienced declines of 10 to 20 points. Why does this matter?

Because it’s hard to rally a nation if ‘we the people’ don’t have trust, are divided politically and walk around touting our own facts.

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once admonished a colleague that while it was Ok to have his own opinions, he certainly was not entitled to his own facts. That old saw seems to have been abandoned.

So what do we do?
I think an answer is what is being called “new localism”—which essentially believes that if we can’t fix the nitwits in Washington maybe we can solve problems and build trust in our communities.


While Washington has struggled with its most basic functions (passing a budget, keeping the government’s lights on etc.) there are cities of all sizes throughout America that have created vibrant economies, fixed distressed neighborhoods, improved public safety, reformed schools and created a better quality of life for its citizens.

Local government is where the opportunities lie—but only if we can attract talented policymakers, leaders and professional staff. Because let’s face it, building great cities isn’t easy either. But it is possible.

I have long told prospective elected officials that local government provides a rich soil for achievement and innovation. But they have to do a few things in order to succeed and if they skipped those things they would surely fail or fall far short of their potential.

So what is the secret sauce?

How do you succeed locally?

We’re glad you asked…(and that’s not just an aside, I do appreciate your emails).

First, it helps to have a vision or a North Star that the community creates, develops and defends against the inevitable push back from those who fight change, don’t bother to show up or adopt a mindset of now that I have moved to town—nothing else should ever change. We call it: “I’m in the boat, pull up the ladder.”

Elected officials are successful when they want to get things done; when they shape change rather than resist it.

They get in trouble when they see themselves as “goalies” there to block any and all ideas—or any and all ideas that aren’t theirs.

Now that doesn’t mean that good elected officials don’t have a role to play in defending their cities from change that would be harmful, hurtful or out of character. The best ones know the difference between the former –which is needed in order to grow and survive–and the latter which can ruin a community.

The best elected officials build trust by being inclusive, open-minded and fair. They serve more than their base. They know that once elected they have to shift from campaigning to governing which demands decisions and those decisions should respect the rule of law, support community visions and take in the long term interests of the community not their short term political needs.

They understand that they will be called on to make and defend tough decisions but once those decisions are made they need to move on. In politics and in life, you win some and lose some.

The best leaders listen. And while almost every politician claims to be a listener, you can easily tell who is truly listening and learning and who is merely paying lip service.

But if you do truly listen, you will reap the rewards. Listening builds trust.

But listening doesn’t mean obedience—it just means you respect people enough to hear their concerns. When the roll call vote is called, you have to vote your conscience which sometimes will aggravate your friends and neighbors. So it helps if you acknowledge their concerns and where possible try and find a way to compromise so that decisions can be win-win, not a zero sum game.

My test for local success is whether you are supported by the doers in your community—the volunteers, the business owners, rank and file employees, senior level staff, key organizations and important community groups. If you can earn and keep their support you know you’re doing a good job. Again, that doesn’t mean blind loyalty—it just means that you have made enough decisions that they support so that they respect your work, trust your judgment and go to sleep at night knowing that on most issues you will do the right thing.



  1. There is entirely too much money in politics and there should be term limits, voting should be held on Sundays, gerrymandering should be outlawed.

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