It is everything. Trust.
In the first of the two attached opinion pieces, the 100-year old former Republican Cabinet member George Shultz lists ten instances from his life where important trust was established between him and others—from his parents to President Nixon to President Reagan—that led to successful relationships and progress at times of difficulty. In the second piece, Bret Stephens relates the Shultz editorial to Donald Trump and how the soon to be gone president so eroded America’s trust in itself that it may take years to re-establish it.
Stephens begins by noting that at the end of the Obama Presidency, a group of conservative writers spoke with Mr. Obama about his fears concerning the in-coming administration. Stephens lists what people feared: a collapsing stock market, war with North Korea or Iran, restraints on the exercise of press freedom, Putin reducing Trump to his puppet through blackmail, Trump-appointed justices ending the rule of law, and Trump himself never leaving office. None of that happened. This is very important because many people, myself included now and again, view the Trump Presidency as the worst in modern times. It wasn’t. That honor probably goes to the George W. Bush Presidency that gave us 9/11, plus wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, ending with the collapse of the economy in 2008. Thanks George. Jimmy Carter gets a nod for screwing up the Iran Hostage Crisis and crippling the economy.
The real reason that none of that bad stuff happened under Trump is that the United States still works and Trump was never a threat to do any of that stuff. Courts, the “Deep State” of dedicated federal employees, and Congress limited Trump’s damage and the voters and the federal courts have ended Trump’s presidency. Trump will be a blip in American history and forgotten by February. What Stephens points out Trump was able to accomplish other than his progress in correctly identifying the Chinese threat and his transcendent accomplishments in the Middle East, is to further a United States where people don’t trust each other, don’t believe each other, and surely neither trust nor believe real experts like scientists. Thanks Don for that, but to be fair you didn’t start it. However, you raised it to a high art—red hats and all.
The real surprise here is that when a Democratic leader (Bill Clinton) undermined our belief in him and his government, the conservatives were right there leading the charge against his phoniness. Here, the conservatives including many, many members of Congress got on board with Trump and helped reduce Americans’ faith in their own government and the outcome of fair elections. As Stephens points out, the good news is that we did not have a nuclear war. The bad news is that trust in the government and in each other is at an all-time low. My email after every blog will attest to the schism that exists between right thinking conservatives and right thinking liberals who really agree on many things, but call each other names. Heck, both groups call me names.
One of the big challenges of the in-coming Biden Administration will be to restore that trust and it’s getting off on the wrong foot by having debates about the political correctness of the make up of the Cabinet as well as real concerns about Biden’s son Hunter which should be addressed by the President-elect now with real data, not sentiment.
I am not an expert on how to establish trust when taking on a new leadership role. I have done it well and poorly in the past. I do know that you do have to clean up the mess that your predecessor left at the same time that you initiate the new programs that will be your legacy.
The coronavirus crisis has put many initiatives on hold. One of those is the furthering of the mission of academic medical centers while they deal with the overwhelming patient loads and the challenge of working from a distance. With the coming of the vaccines, we are probably no more than a year away from normalcy. When that normalcy arrives, the challenge for all leaders of every institution in academia will be to jump start the academic mission and restore research, especially cancer research, to its rightful place. That will require the trust of the faculty and patients that medicine is both inquisitive and caring.
Like it or not, the atmosphere of mistrust raised to its current level by Trump, is also a barrier to the academic centers. We will see if things improve under Biden in a post-covid world.