Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve! At long last, this horrible year will come to a close. But over the last few days, as I thought about what joke I could make about 2020 in my end-of-year note, I realized that calling 2020 a terrible year has become more than a little trite. Netflix has even managed to pull together an entire movie calling for Death to 2020. But deep down, we know our troubles won’t vanish as the clock strikes midnight.
So, what can I say that is both honest and optimistic? I’m not sure I have a clear answer, but I’ve kept coming back to our video, Keeping the Faith. Faith is ultimately about trust - trust in a Higher Power, trust in our fellow citizens, trust in ourselves. Secretary George Schultz’s Washington Post piece, published on his 100th birthday, brought this point home for me, “Trust is fundamental, reciprocal and, ideally, pervasive. If it is present, anything is possible. If it is absent, nothing is possible.”
Unfortunately, trust is also fragile. Like a small plant, it must be nurtured and protected lest a stray gust of wind uproot it. But it’s also capable of growing, of developing into a powerful thing, capable of withstanding any number of tempests. And there is no doubt that trust in our democracy is no mere sproutling. Unlike so many countries in the world, we have generally been able to trust our institutions, our elections, our laws.
There’s also no denying that over the past few years this trust has been shaken. Many people across our nation don’t trust our justice system to do right by minorities; trust in our institutions has been shaken by Trump’s brazen abrogation of democratic norms; and now many millions of Americans believe the election to have been stolen. These are dangerous trends that ultimately represent an even more dangerous reality - that as a nation, we have begun to mistrust one another at nearly unprecedented rates.
But like any living, breathing thing, trust can be healed - restored. As we enter a new year, this is the work that we must commit ourselves to. It won’t be easy. There are many substantive disagreements that exist between us, but we can disagree with one another both passionately and empathetically. We can approach conversations with curiosity about the other person’s point of view alongside our own convictions. But in order to do so, we must reject the politics of ideological purity, from “cancellation” to fact-free conspiracy theories. We need to center ourselves on the principles that have guided our democracy over the past 244 years and recognize that as Benjamin Franklin said all those years ago, “we must hang together or surely we shall hang separately.”
When push comes to shove, what greater exercise in trust could there possibly be than maintaining an open, free, and fair democracy? Rather than trusting a single strongman to guide us through a Time of Troubles, we put our trust in 330 million of our fellow citizens to keep us all safe, secure and able to prosper. So even in the depths of a worldwide pandemic, a national political crisis, an economic crisis, and even a crisis of civic faith, I trust that we will make our way through and come out the other side stronger and more united than ever before. This trust is what drew me from the private sector to RDI and what drives our work every single day. In repairing and improving our democracy, we have a unique opportunity that billions of people around the world would - and actually do - die for. So as we enter a new year, I look forward to working with all of you to take advantage of this incredible opportunity and responsibility we’ve been handed - to renew our democracy and with it, our trust in one another.
With best wishes for a healthy and restorative New Year,
Renew Democracy Initiative