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Peggy Noonan: To Rebuild Trust, ‘Be One of the Few’

While intertwining humorous stories of her time in both politics and commentary, keynote speaker and Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan spoke to the Conference pillar of “trust.” To rebuild trust and make America a more peaceful nation, the responsibility falls not on leaders and institutions, but on individuals in their daily life, Noonan said.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist stressed that the nation is facing an epidemic of tactlessness. While it may be an antiquated virtue, tact is crucial in both personal interactions as well as efforts to address society’s most perplexing issues.

Her call to action? Be one of the few. Despite their monolithic appearance and often imposing veneer, America’s civic and societal institutions are alarmingly fragile and highly dependent on human effort. They are saved every day only by the quite heroism of the few who decide to make a difference.

“… Our mighty institutions — the grand marble courthouses, gleaming government buildings, and soaring cathedrals — are in daily need of saving … by the wisdom and patience, by the quiet heroism of the few, of the good boss, of the manager who doesn’t think, ‘This company exists to employ me, this company exists to provide a service and to help people, and I have a great job in it.’ Try to have a sense of not a job, but a vocation,” Noonan said.

Following her address, Noonan was joined on stage by Detroit News columnist and associate business editor Daniel Howes for a brief Q&A session, where she shared her thoughts behind the rise and subsequent election of President Trump, and how the tension in America may be reaching a cultural fissure — a “Lincoln-esque moment,” where the country may break apart.

Key Takeaways:

  • America’s declining trust is a crisis. Declining trust in democratic institutions reflects a more dangerous lack of trust in ourselves and in democracy as a model of government.
  • All of us, but especially young people, should understand that institutions are only as strong as the people in them.
  • Strong beliefs are formed in adolescence, and it is up to community leaders to model to youth the way they should think of business, government, and other societal functions.
  • There is a gap between skepticism and cynicism. Skepticism is healthy, but cynicism is a hard-setting virus that attacks the will to make change.
  • In this moment in time, it is not President Trump’ stated mission or intent to rebuilt trust. A humble, more collegial government starts with states and communities, as leaders work to restore tactfulness and peace.

The session was sponsored by Consumers Energy.