A crisis is an event that leads to an unstable and dangerous situation affecting an individual, group, community, or society as a whole. The Chinese word for crisis presents an excellent depiction of the components of a crisis. The word "crisis" in Chinese is formed with the characters for danger and opportunity. Crisis is a perception or experience of an event or situation that triggers an intolerable difficulty that exceeds the person’s internal resources and coping mechanisms.
Not since the Great Depression have we witnessed a similar crisis of trust as we enter the second year of the Corona virus pandemic. Just under a century, the Great Depression began with the Wall Street Crash in October 1929. The stock market crash marked the beginning of a decade of high unemployment, poverty, low profits, deflation, plunging farm incomes, and lost opportunities for economic growth as well as for personal advancement. Altogether, there was a general loss of confidence and trust of government, politicians, and public agencies. Above all, what happened in the early 1930s was a loss of trust in authority, specifically a loss of faith that the institutions that ordered society and could be counted on to provide stability and enable prosperity.
As the world attempts to find solutions to the escalating Corona virus pandemic, a crisis of whom to belief and whom to trust has emerged, posing a major challenge for political leaders managing the Corona virus pandemic in their respective countries. Levels of trust in our institutions, in our political leaders, and in one another are at an all-time low. When social trust and a sense of a common destiny collapses, nations fail. Can we stop this spiraling descent before it’s too late? The widespread rejection, cynicism, and distrust of democratically elected leaders will remain with us way after the corona virus has passed and is no longer a threat. The evolution of a virus into a partisan political weapon has only amplified the public’s crisis of whom to trust and believe and its flip side; whom not to trust or believe. The assault on truth, on medical decisions, on medical recommendations will last long after the current political electoral cycle, and the price of an escalating infection rate and a soaring death toll will be paid by the general public. The Democratic Party, progressives and their media cohorts have succeeded in convincing the public to question the sincerity of conservative political leaders to combat the corona virus pandemic. Kamala Harris, the Democratic Vice-President elect has recently been quoted as stating that she won’t take a vaccine as long as Trump is president.
In the United States, Israel, and most of the European continent, elected political leaders have had to deal with an aggressive and round the clock delegitimization campaign by progressive political opponents, social media, media celebrities, and media journalists who have questioned, ridiculed, and dismissed basic guidelines and recommendations so as to weaken the public’s support of conservative leaders such as President Trump, and Prime Minister Netanyahu in their respective countries. Even with an effective corona vaccine just around the corner, and with the level of misinformation and mistrust emanating from political opponents such as the Democratic Party in the United States and among opposition political parties in Israel at an all-time high; the public is unsure, and unwilling to accept scientific advances and recommendations hampering an effective pandemic response by elected leaders as they provide solutions to the Corona pandemic.
Over the past year, the corona virus has reached all corners of the world, claiming the lives of well over 1.4 million people globally. Due to the public’s mounting lack of trust, elected leaders worldwide have been struggling to provide the necessary guidance, and protective measures to counter infection rates. Regulatory and judicial delay’s in releasing coherent instructions, lack of effective epidemiological investigation recommendations, and hospital systems that were unprepared and overwhelmed have become a reality in most of the Western world. Subsequently, the public was called to wear masks, practice social distancing and adhere to strict quarantine restrictions and periodic lockdowns. What could have been a coordinated and cooperative effort from both sides of the isle to encourage the public’s cooperation as the corona pandemic spread uncontrollably has instead left us with a confused public unwilling to believe and accept simple medical facts and guidelines to contain further infection. The level of disinformation and rejection of scientific expertise as to the importance of getting vaccinated will hamper its effectiveness. Controlling the corona pandemic with the use of vaccines might very well fail unless the public is willing to get vaccinated.
It has become all too common to hear among those that have a platform to impact public opinion the following type of defiance; “All speculation, unscientific guesswork, and ultimately unprovable. There is a creepy worship of pseudo-science — counting lots of nugatory quantities; publishing abstruse, indecipherable "studies"; and treating fallible interpretations of theoretical numbers as hard fact — that is reaching its zenith in the age of COVID-19.” Many reports getting wide attention clearly show that public opinion polling shows only a slim majority of Americans are willing to trust a first-generation vaccine, and due to the crisis of trust vaccine skepticism is becoming widespread. As Corona virus vaccines become available to the general public in the coming weeks and months, what can be done to regain the trust of the general public and emerge from the crisis of the Corona pandemic?
The crisis of trust won’t be solved by a naive faith in truth’s innate power to prevail over falsehoods. Nor will it be solved by President Trump leaving the White House nor President-elect Biden entering. Without institutional, educational and legal remedies, lies will continue to trump truth. In President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address we hear a clear message to the American people of 2020 to appreciate the importance of civic action and public service. His historic words, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country,” challenges every American today to contribute in some way to the public good. In our era of the Corona virus pandemic the American people need to understand this simple message and do everything they can to prevent infecting others while waiting for the vaccine to become available. Israelis would do well to follow suit.