Bridging the Divide 2020 – Rebuilding Trust in our Nation’s Institutions

The fifth session of the Bridging the Divide series centered around trust: something many argue is lacking in American society and governmental institutions. The discussion was moderated by Anne Thompson, NBC News Chief Environmental Affairs Correspondent and included guest Pete Buttigieg, Mayor of South Bend, Ind., for two terms from 2012-2020. The aim of this session was to respectfully wrestle with issues confronting American society and politics such as trust and transparency in American’s government. 


The first topic of discussion focused on credible information and how to allow for respectful dialogue. Buttigieg explained how people are so deeply entrenched in their own corners that when discussions do happen, there is less listening and more shouting past others. Furthermore, he highlighted that it is very important to interact with people who are different from you and take up opportunities to get out of one’s usual circle. But, he added, it is very difficult to do this with the pandemic, causing more divisions and less opportunity for respectful conversations. Additionally, Buttigieg emphasized how people need to pay closer attention to where they are getting their information and ensure that these sources are credible as the lines between news and ideological views are becoming more blurred in the digital environment. Thompson echoed this idea by emphasizing that there are never only two sides to a story; there are many sides and viewpoints to a topic that people need to become more aware of. 


Another key topic discussed regarded what needs to be done to bridge the gap between political parties. Buttigieg shared how he thinks there needs to be more shared experiences that are not political. He explained that this is why universities and towns are so important because they are spaces that bring people together from different backgrounds, creating a sense of diversity. Additionally, Buttigieg shared his fondness of service and its ability to create trust between those who are radically different politically or economically. He emphasized how venturing into spaces where there are people from different political and social backgrounds allows for people to understand different attitudes and develop a connection with people who differ from them. Furthermore, this creates a baseline shared experience of connecting with other Americans that has the ability to make people feel more connected, therefore creating a more respectful and cooperative environment. 


The discussion closed with Buttigieg sharing how the country needs to go through a process of truth telling and transparency in order to restore trust at an individual and institutional level. Just like people we love, as Buttigieg explained, we must find and develop ways to restore trust in our institutions. This can be done by venturing into spaces where not everyone is aligned politically or socially, but great understanding and respect among different attitudes can be created, as Buttigieg emphasized. Buttigieg closed the discussion by highlighting that the next generation has only lived through turmoil and political distrust, causing a combination of deep skepticism and a desire to get things done. As Buttigieg reminded people, this empowered generation will dominate the next era of society and politics, making them stronger and more trustworthy. Such progress will be done by continuing discussions, such as this one, in which important topics are conversed respectfully and with an open mind. 

  • Trust is something often lacking in our country and our governmental institutions, creating deep divisions that could potentially worsen in upcoming years if actions are not taken to mend this mistrust. 
  • People need to pay closer attention to the sources of information they are reading and better understand where they are coming from, what its potential biases are, and whether or not it is a credible source. 
  • It is vital to interact with people who are different from you in order to understand those with differing perspectives, restore trust, and create a more cooperative nation. One major way this can take place is through service. 
  • Humans are flawed beings and not perfectly reliable, which is why trust and transparency are needed. 
  • The next generation is empowered and, by force of numbers, they will dominate our society and politics. Their deep skepticism and desire to get things done and make them better. 

  • “We always said there aren’t just two sides to a story. If there are 360 degrees in that circle there are 360 to a story.” — Anne Thompson, 11:08
  • “There are unspeakably multiplying ways in which the basic ability to navigate through the world or to live among people depends on trust. When that starts to break down, a lot of things break down with it and I think we’ve got a threefold crisis of trust right now: political trust, reported trust, measurable trust in institutions has fallen dramatically in my lifetime, social trust extent to which we trust each other just as human beings and international trust, specifically the trust that other countries place in the United States as a whole and all three of these are areas we’ve got to recover quickly in order to face the biggest issues of our day because the biggest issues of our day or exquisitely depending on cooperation if we want to solve them. Cooperation, of course, can’t happen without trust.” — Pete Buttigieg, 12:52
  • “I think we need to begin by creating more shared experiences that aren’t sorted according to politics. This is one of the reasons cities and towns are so important, so are universities, spaces that bring people together from radically different backgrounds, at least a university that does a good job at creating that sense of diversity. This is why I’m a big believer in service and I know the military service isn’t for everybody but it when I think about the fact that in the military, I learned to trust my life to people who are radically different from me in their politics or economic or racial or regional background. I think that could be a model for what we could get out of greater participation in civilian service and if we fully funded it.” — Pete Buttigieg, 33:10
  • “Trust is needed because we’re not perfectly reliable and often the most important experiences we have that relate to trust have to do with what you do when trust has been damaged or sacrificed and needs to be rebuilt and precisely because we’re flawed beings. We learn ways of developing and restoring trust in our personal lives. That’s probably the most powerful playbook that we can draw on when it comes to our institutions that may do the same because our institutions in our country just like human beings that we love have sometimes let us down and we’ve got to do something about it in a way that on one hand, presses these institutions to do better and on the other hand just as with someone we love, refuses to give up on them or their capacity to change.”  — Pete Buttigieg, 50:30
  • “Venture into spaces where maybe not everyone is aligned with you on a social or political matter but you know that you can build some good faith in and understand different attitudes. Think about circles you have access to, social neighborhood, family, political, whatever it is, and dwell on the way you can create some personal connection with people before you get to the things that are different.” — Pete Buttigieg, 53:50