We know that for years, trust in big institutions has been eroding with big government being the least trusted of those institutions. We’ve also seen that government closest to the people has been traditionally more trusted than the federal government. Close means the people who put out fires, fix potholes and pick up garbage weekly without fail. But lately, given the broken state of public discourse in the U.S., even that is changing. Trust in local government is also strained and eroding. Local public health officials, educators and election workers are particularly under fire. It’s driving good, competent people to retreat, go silent or in some cases just quit. These reactions are understandable, but they’re not solutions. Working in the public sector requires working with the public; we just need to learn to do it better.
How we deal with truth may be the biggest challenge that anybody faces in democracy and public engagement in years to come. How odd is it to think there was a time when truth was simply right, expected, a given, an honorable forgone conclusion. Lying and liars were appropriately vilified in honorable society. Not so much anymore. Weaponized propaganda, disinformation and general BS are no longer anomalies in public discourse; they often lead the conversation, muck up the facts, keep us off balance and in constant chaos. And as the case with trust, truth is increasingly the issue in local government.