Wait, please hear me out! Trust feels precious enough that none of us really wants to spare any for politics, let alone anyone who can’t go three words without pandering. But the bad news is that our political system runs on trust, so we’ll all have to find some way to build it for the people we hire to write and manage the rules of society.
Anyone asking for your trust has to start with a good faith argument. This sounds extremely simple, but it is more complicated than it seems. You have to be able to identify what a good faith argument looks like, for one, and then you have to believe that the person making that argument is being sincere about it.
Good faith arguments basically don’t assume your stance before they start. Good faith means that they want to hear your perspective and are open to new understanding. It’ll sound like this: “As a leader, I want to work towards a better future for my [district/state/country] and make sure that I am accountable to my constituents for my successes and shortcomings.”
They’ll usually back that up with a clear vision of the world they imagine, even if it is as small as a new playground or as big as nuclear disarmament. If someone sincerely wants something to happen because they think it will have a positive influence on lives, they will be thorough and be flexible on negotiations as long as they can get closer to that vision. Leaders who can’t quite explain what they want in the world are not worth investing your faith in.
But changing the status quo doesn’t always come easy, so a politician worth trusting will explain the good and bad of the situation. I cannot express this enough, so I will say it every time I can: everything comes with a cost. That cost may be monetary, it may be blood, it may be opportunity. But there is a cost to every single choice. Any politician who comes before you and says that you can have everything you want and no one will have to pay is a lying liar and you should be sprinting in the opposite direction. Trustworthy politicians will make an argument that the benefits outweigh the negatives and be thorough with the details of how it will affect you.
Trustworthy leaders will also accept and respect dissent. A big part of figuring out those costs is to listen to people who push back at the clear vision, either because they worry that they will be directly hurt or because they’re afraid that the change will damage an existing, successful system.
A politician worth trusting will listen to critiques, analyze them and answer them with factual responses, because they want people to invest in their vision of the future. They want to make lives better. Hostility to dissent and demands for blind trust are bright red flags that you are best investing your time, energy and belief elsewhere.
The last thing is not a task for a leader or politician, but for us as constituents: remember that your leaders are human. They had childhoods just like you; they said and did stupid things as teenagers. They probably curse and yell (at least I hope they do). They put pants on one leg at a time, and they need someone else’s help to finish zipping their dresses.
Anger at their ideas is normal and healthy. Anger with their personas is less healthy but understandable. Anger at their humanity is a no-go. Trusting leaders requires that we acknowledge the step they’re taking to be in front of us, and to give them the chance to prove themselves. They’re asking for your trust, not your harassment.
Learning to trust leaders is essential to how our government works. It might feel empowering to say that you are so cynical that you believe absolutely nothing, but that’s a path to let everyone else make meaningful decisions in your life. Curiosity and suspicion help keep us from bad mistakes, but distrust and apathy enable the worst in our politics. Pure cynicism treats the trustworthy and the huckster as the same because they seek power. Using systems to reinforce trust help us see that seeking power is less of an issue than what you’re seeking to do with it.