Pete Buttigieg, Trust: America's Best Chance (New York: Liveright, 2020), 223pp.
Trust is in short supply these days. Consider two examples from Pete Buttigieg's newest book. In 1958, a scientific survey found that 73% of Americans trusted their government "to do what is right always or most of the time." By 2019 that figure had plummeted to 19%. Or again: whereas Canada is ranked #1 as the world's most trusted country, the United States is not even in the top twenty-five on that list.
Buttigieg wants to change this. In his view, we must change this for our democracy to flourish. His book is a combination of personal, historical and political reflections and experiences. From 2012 to 2019 he served as a two-term mayor of South Bend, Indiana, the town in which he was born and raised. After studies at Harvard and Oxford, he served in the Navy Reserve from 2009 to 2017, and in 2014, while mayor of South Bend, he was deployed to Afghanistan for seven months as an intelligence officer specializing in counter terrorism (with a top secret clearance). He reflects on his failed presidential campaign, and what he's learned from things like studying Arabic in Tunisia (one of the seven languages he has studied).
Buttigieg avoids both cynicism and naivete when it comes to the loss of trust—whether personal, social, political, or international. His book is forward-looking to "what must come next." He examines the various causes for our loss of trust; Ronald Reagan even turned distrust of the government into a political virtue. Today it's fashionable for all sides to hate "the establishment." He pays special attention to the issues of climate change and its deniers, anti-vaxers and the COVID pandemic, our glaring social inequalities that disenfranchise large portions of our population, our history of systematic racism, social media and conspiracy theories, and how the greater media sow distrust by peddling stories of suspicion like birtherism. Foreign actors have sown distrust in our national life precisely because "they understand that trust is a national security asset."
Buttigieg is confident that we can rebuild trust if we so choose. History suggests some encouraging examples. He explores remedies like a fairer tax code, a voluntary form of national service, and a racial truth and healing commission. I wish he had addressed how ordinary citizens are supposed to rebuild trust with their political leaders who have proven time and again how unworthy they are of our respect. In February 2021, President Biden appointed Buttigieg as the Secretary of Transportation. He's only thirty-nine, and as this book shows, he's a brilliant intellectual who has cultivated a political passion for our common life together. I'm sure we will hear more from him in our nation's future.
Dan Clendenin: email@example.com