August 26, 2022
In answer to a question during a recent Sutherland Institute Congressional Series event, Sen. Mitt Romney discussed the weighty matter of decreasing trust in our civic institutions.
My biggest concern is … the decline in trust in institutions generally: schools, churches, charitable organizations, the FBI, police, our election officials. All these institutions are being attacked by wily politicians knowing that by attacking they get more eyeballs, they get more support. … I don’t know how a democracy is able to thrive, even a representative democracy as ours is, if people don’t have trust in institutions. … Those of us who believe that the Constitution is not just brilliant, but inspired, have to ask ourselves: As we attack institutions and instill in our children a skepticism about our institutions, are we in effect attacking our basic Constitution itself?
Both the question and the answer referenced a recent Gallup poll whose results showed a “record-low confidence across all institutions” from Americans. Such a loss of trust in institutions has very real potential consequences for everyday Americans. As I wrote in a recent Deseret News essay regarding the decline in institutional health and trust:
This decline has weakened one of the civic bulwarks against disagreement becoming division and partisanship becoming political poison. The broader social and political ramifications of this toxic mix of division and declining institutions are serious. As Edmund Burke wrote in a letter to a French friend, “Liberty is … but another name for justice; ascertained by wise laws, and secured by well-constructed institutions.”
Freedom-loving individuals of all stripes – be they conservative, liberal, libertarian, progressive or from another schools of thought – should be greatly concerned by the declining trust in and health of civic institutions. They should also be disturbed that the very elected officials and organizations that claim most vocally to cherish and defend basic rights and liberties are often the loudest and harshest critics of some of the civic institutions essential to those freedoms.
Raising our families according to our deepest beliefs and values relies upon our ability to express ourselves and practice our faith under equal protection of the law. The quality education gained in good schools relies upon strong families that support and facilitate a student’s learning through the home environment. The ability to start a successful business or keep a good job relies upon laws, governments and courts that are respected enough to make contracts and work rules largely self-enforcing. There are simply not enough courts and law enforcement officials to ensure business contracts and employment agreements are followed by everyone.
The day-to-day freedoms that we depend on for our well-being and our pursuit of happiness as Americans are not broadly sustainable without healthy and trusted civic institutions. We need to actively participate in them – to reform them, where necessary, to become more trustworthy – and defend them against those who would opportunistically attack them for political or financial gain.
That may understandably feel like a tall task for people whose busy lives are dominated by family, financial, education and health concerns. With that in mind, it is worth examining where our individual and group priorities lie and where they should be.
Most, if not all, of our life concerns will become more concerning and difficult without healthy civic institutions that help make us equal to the task of facing them and offer us aid in resolving the elements of them we cannot resolve ourselves. Strengthening institutions despite the demands on our time and energy is, ultimately, an investment in the well-being of ourselves and those we care about most.
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