How to Rebuild Institutional Trust
A follow-up to the sneering David Brooks column in the Times.
Since Brooks addressed the question of institutional trust in a column aimed squarely at pandering to the elitism of Times readers, let's for a moment talk about what a sincere effort to rebuild institutional trust in public health in good faith might actually look like.
1. Admit Your Errors
One of the most infuriating things during the pandemic has been the refusal of an expert establishment to admit any errors while insisting that critics must be censored for the sake of public health.
People aren't stupid.
The USSR censored critics and it didn't lead to public trust. It never does.
If you want the public's trust, admit what you got wrong and what you learned from the experience. The more you insist on your infallibility while rocking an abysmal track record, the less anyone is going to trust you.
2. Include the People Who Don't Trust You
Instead of taking out ads during NASCAR races to reach conservatives, actually include conservatives in the process.
Of course, that would require reversing the process by which liberals and lefties came to dominate government institutions. Especially in the arena of public health. But if you want a sizable chunk of the population to trust you while isolating them from the process, that isn't going to happen.
3. Have a Mission Everyone is on Board With
If you want people to take your word, you have to be objective. That means no rolling gun control, global warming, or any other lefty hobbyhorses in under the guise of public health.
Once you do that, your agency, organization, or division is inherently factional, partisan, and will be distrusted by half the country.
Instead of lecturing conservatives on the need to trust authorities who clearly don't trust them, strive to earn their trust for a change.