We are living through times that often feel like one long commentary on Joni Mitchell’s line “you don’t know what you got till it’s gone.” From quotidian encounters on the street to public sacraments, hospitality in the flesh to basic truth-telling from our leaders, it is not the sophisticated accoutrements of an advanced civilization that have screamed in their absence, but rather the rudimentary things. The things we ordinarily take for granted, the “essential” and the core.
As I write in the twilight of this most revealing year, there is one societal staple that is tremoring with a particular foreboding: trust. Trust in other people, trust in institutions, trust in the future, trust in a shared story of hope. Symptoms of the rot abound: Surveys report that 70 to 80 percent of American Republicans believe that the most recent presidential election was rigged. More and more young people question the moral authority of religious leaders, police officers, business leaders, and even K–12 public school principals. We are seeing a crisis in the legitimacy of our political and epistemic authority structures. People increasingly claim their reality as the only reality, and no pain expressed from another’s life experience, no reason nor facts nor even personal appeals of goodwill, stand much chance of budging how one sees and where one stands.
Much ink has and will continue to be spilled on how we arrived at this depressing state of rigidity, and we at Comment commend that literature to you. But what this winter issue wants to do is brave the “what now?” question: What might it take to build some trust back in to our withered commons, and for those who have never tasted trust’s rewards, sow it reliably for the first time?