By Mihaela Nicola*
Trust, or more precisely its absence, has constituted the central electoral campaign theme in Romania – as it did in many other nations. Maybe not assumed, maybe not the main vector of discourse; but recurrent and staggering in a country where no one seems to trust anyone and nothing. How did we reach this point? How and where did we lose trust such that the principal political forces have managed to make a political campaign out of it? Is Romania a singular case, or is the country an actor in a global symphony of distrust?
Jean Pisani Ferry is a general commissioner for France Strategie (FS), an organization for reflection and public policies in the Hexagon, subordinated to Prime Minister Valls. The last FS study, published at the end of October 2016, is called Lines of Rupture. A re-united society analyzes its sources of accentuated pessimism, especially of its youth, in French society. The figures are illustrative: less than a quarter of the young population believes that they have a promising future.
Actually, the whole French society estimates that in the following 10 years, there will be high tensions on issues such as immigration, economic policies, administrative representation, institution functionality.
What France feels at the moment, at the level of strategic protection, is that “re-gaining trust in our institutions will require something else than inventing new devices or looking for more robust economic growth.” Probably, it will require a re-thinking of the whole social contract between the state and its citizens.
A re-thinking of the “grammar of communal living” will be required.
On the other side of the Channel, the initiative that seemed toxic and populist, of Britain’s breakaway from the European Union, has gained shape through the consequence of popular voting. We have already overcome the phase according to which the public did not know actually what they were voting for and what the implications of such a decision were. The maturity of an evolved and diverse society understands BREXIT as a form of full expression of distrust in institutions and in the force of a pan-European entity that is in crisis. We are already undergoing the consequences.
In Iceland, at the end of October, anticipated legislative elections took place as a consequence of the scandal that took the country by storm right after the publishing of the Panama Papers. And we cannot discuss this round of elections, in the society with the oldest parliament in the entire world (Althingi), without mentioning the presence and performance of the Pirate Party. Founded 4 years ago, having many activists and hackers as members, led by a poet, Birgitte Jonsdottir, the party advocates for direct democracy, a constitution written directly by the people, net neutrality, liberalization of the cryptographic currency, transparency taken to the extreme, and offering Icelandic citizenship to Edward Snowden. With a presence of almost 80% at the polls, the results placed the Pirate Party at 14.5%, 3 seats, just before the traditional parties, tripling its presence in the legislative. Misunderstandings within the coalition made possible that the Pirate Party obtain a negotiation mandate for forming the government. It failed, but it is worth mentioning the fact that a wave of distrust in the millennial political resources, of traditional parties, took/uphold the pirates in a point that they couldn’t have dreamed of 4 years ago.
A survey published by Gallup, in the summer of 2016, shows how in the last 10 years, American citizens’ trust in institutions has drastically fallen. Notably, the most significant fall in trust was registered by churches, the banking system, Congress, media – with drops of more than 10-22 points. In other words, institutions lost within this time loop 25-40% of their trust capital. But perhaps the most striking fall in trust was registered by the media — from 30% confidence to 20%, whether we are talking about television or print.
The decrease in trust for institutions may appear bizarre if we consider one fact. The respondents who generated these numbers believe at the same time that the economic situation has increased, when comparing it with the one from 10 years ago, and that there are higher chances to find a satisfying job.
It appears, thus, that it is not sufficient to increase economic indicators to grow, at the same time, trust in institutions and the state. Somehow, institutions do not receive much credit for the revival, although the evolution of well-paid jobs has been spectacular since 2011. People “can endure sadness” but are not prepared to forgive the “banks’ greed,” “the sins of the Catholic Church,” the Congress’s incompetence and the media partnerships.
“But losing trust in so many institutions at once, while Americans become more and more positive with other issues, suggests that there are reasons that go beyond any institutional specific. The task of identifying and managing these reasons in a way that would re-build trust represents one of the greatest challenges for the leaders of a nation in the following years.” (Gallup, 2016)
A research of the Institute for Policies at Harvard University shows that young people, aged 18-29, the so-called millennials, reject both socialism and capitalism, have a high trust in the military, in the police, and in SMEs. Trust figures of young people for other institutions are still meager when comparing to the American average. Almost all data show that the link between millennials and the governmental bodies is fractured.
Any serious and professional discussion concerning disinformation begins with evaluating trust in values, media, and the convention called “the state.” Regaining trust seems to be the central theme of these years. It seems to be the search that the EU leaders have proposed to address precisely what disconcert societies lack. The problem was well-defined, and it is being brought to light. What remains now is that the political and public institutions to remember for whom they work, from who they are re-drawing in etiquette lines the grammar of communal living.
* Mihaela Nicola is a member of the LARICS Expert Council.