The lack of confidence in the institutions that define our collective culture is threatening the civility, economic prosperity, and standing of the United States as a world leader.
Let’s start with the government.
The President’s approval rating is underwater and continuing to sink. A recent Gallup poll found that only 47 percent have a positive view of the President while 52 percent have an unfavorable view. It is conceivable that the Obama presidency could end with him being viewed as less favorable than George W. Bush.
The approval rate for Congress is no better. Gallup also reports that the approval rating for that group is at 16 percent—the lowest level in history for a mid-term election year.
But, wait. There’s more.
2013 data from Gallup indicates a strikingly low percentage of Americans who express confidence in our other institutions.
- Organized religion: 48 percent
- Public education: 32 percent
- Big business: 22 percent
- Television news: 22 percent
- Newspapers: 22 percent
Our families are also at risk. Divorce rates are rising again for the third straight year after plunging during the economic recession of 2008-2009. Apparently money can’t buy love, but it will keep you in a bad relationship if there are no other options.
How did we arrive here?
The institutions within a society teach us the expected norms of what is acceptable and desirable. When our confidence in those institutions collapses, we lose the collective sense of responsibility that ensures long-term prosperity.
Hillary Clinton was ridiculed by some because of her “It takes a village” quote, but the former Secretary of State is correct. It is virtually impossible for a single family to overcome the vast amounts of conflicting messages when all of the institutions that define our society have lost the public’s confidence. You might be able to overcome the loss of confidence in one or two, but not all of them.
How we change things
The fault in our institutions is the logical outcome of years of neglect from the people responsible for their success—us. Our institutions will return to being a positive influence when we return to making their relevance a priority.
We didn’t arrive here over night or even over the past 10 years. There is no 90-day improvement plan for developing the leadership competency, character, and courage required to restore confidence in our institutions and ourselves.
There are, however, three things that we can do:
- Choose to lead and engage. Start with leading your life. We earn the right to expect more of others when we have shown that we expect more from ourselves. Continue by engaging and influencing in your family, community, and workplace. Your commitment to improving things ends when you die. Until then, there is work to be done.
- Choose different leaders. Get involved. Advocate. Vote. A single vote in your community might not decide the Presidential election, but it can decide who sits on your city council or local school board. Most important, be willing to elect and support leaders who will work with those with whom they disagree. It is absolutely right to elect leaders who support your positions. It is absolutely wrong to become so rigid in your positions that you are willing for the world to grind to a halt to make a point.
- Invest in education—yours and others. Many of middle class jobs that were lost in the last recession will never return to the United States. Other countries have proven that their citizens can perform those jobs for a more competitive wage. You can complain about the minimum wage or that we should punish companies that take jobs overseas. That doesn’t change the long-term reality that the good jobs everyone wants ultimately rely on people with skills to perform them. We must make education a long-term priority to create a sustainable economy.
The culture of a society is defined by its institutions. We resolve their faults through performance and commitment not rhetoric.