What's happening to trust?
The collapse of social institutions, the rise of individual influencers, and Legally Blonde.
Hi there! It’s me Kinsey popping in with an update, some ideas, and a heaping serving of good vibes to get your Friday kicked off to a stellar start.
First, the update: I’m building a new show and until I’m ready to drop episode 1 on y’all, I’m writing down the big ideas I can’t stop thinking about in this email.
I hope that, by the time you make it to the bottom, you give yourself some time and space to consider what thoughts you can’t get out of your own brilliant mind. Then? Go talk about them with someone. Hit reply and start a conversation with me. Or call your oldest friend. Or talk to a stranger. Whatever floats your boat.
The idea I’ve been stuck on this week is trust. It’s like when an earworm of a song gets stuck on a loop in your head, but this time it’s “the collapse of institutions and the next generation of idolatry” instead of “Love Story (Taylor’s Version).”
Honestly, Is Anyone but Hozier Still Going to Church?
My sister and I were recently victims of a four-hour road trip that took six hours. By the time we zoomed through John Mayer’s greatest hits, the Dawes album that reminded her of her ex, and all the trivia our collective 41 years of education could summon...we got to talking about organized religion and trust in institutions.
I’d recently read in one of the numerous Axios newsletters that church, synagogue, and mosque membership in the US had fallen below 50% for the first time in Gallup’s record-keeping. That’s pretty astounding for a nation as famously religious as this one.
At best, the numbers painted a picture of an American proletariat changing faster than institutions can keep up. At worst, it painted one of a population rapidly losing faith in those institutions, the ones that once guided us with heavy, influential hands...a crisis of confidence for the new age.
It’s not just places of worship losing their luster. It’s also the government. And the media. And businesses. And NGOs. At least, that’s what studies suggest these days—public trust in social institutions is crumbling.
I’ll pick one of those to unpack: government.
I don’t belong to a church, and despite a very religious upbringing by a southern Baptist father and a Catholic mother, I never have. That never troubled me—organized religion wasn’t the only institution in which I could direct my faith. Like many of my peers who came of age in the post-9/11 world, I placed deep trust in my country and those who ran it as I came into adulthood, and not just because my Dad was a Congressman.
It was because these ideals of patriotism and American exceptionalism at times felt like my religion...until one day they didn’t. Like many my age, I’ve felt the rope tying me to that spirit of Americana fraying over the last several years, and I don’t entirely know why. I still vote eagerly and proudly in every election. I still feel a deep connection to the country I call home and an even deeper appreciation for the people who protect it.
That said, I’m often disappointed and even outraged by the actions of those we consider decision-makers in our country. Perhaps it’s a symptom of the last year (or the five that came before it), perhaps it’s something else entirely. I’m really not sure.
But I am sure that recognizing this shift has moved me to think long and hard about why the erosion of trust in some of our most storied institutions is happening. And what might replace those institutions in our hearts and minds? Welcome to the inside of my brain...let’s talk about how we got here and what comes next.
It’s important to scratch that “why” itch, so let’s start there. This creeping feeling of generalized doubt isn’t entirely new. Passing it to The Atlantic’s David Brooks:
“American history is driven by periodic moments of moral convulsion. The late Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington noticed that these convulsions seem to hit the United States every 60 years or so: the Revolutionary period of the 1760s and ’70s; the Jacksonian uprising of the 1820s and ’30s; the Progressive Era, which began in the 1890s; and the social-protest movements of the 1960s and early ’70s.”
I’m not so convinced we can expect this period of so-called moral convulsion to result in another Woodstock before we call it a day and head back to church. That’s because, today, we’re stomaching the one-two punch of said moral convulsion alongside the violent explosion of social media.
This might be a little grim (and I know I promised good vibes—they’re coming), but I wonder...will we make it to the next wave of social distrust in 60 years if this *gestures to everything* is what the world is like today?
Here’s why I think the answer is yes:
Diminishing trust in institutions doesn’t mean trust is evaporating entirely. It means trust is flowing elsewhere. I think it’s heading toward individuals, more specifically individuals with blue checkmarks.
To whom do you look for answers and leadership, both in thought and action? Is it your family’s rabbi? The president? More likely, it’s the Substack writer whose work you follow devoutly and share widely or the influencer offering personal and professional guidance.
Think about it: The idea of “following” someone is ripe with religious undertones. And we’ve always loved a story of rugged individualism in this country.
Perhaps today instead of worshiping faith leaders or elected representatives, we’re placing our trust in powerful internet messiahs.
That is dangerous: We know in our bones that social media have contributed to the radicalization of Americans on either side of the political spectrum.
But I’m not giving up my optimism just yet. As far as I can tell, we have a sliver of time left to rein in the internet’s most influential. If we can keep those who walk on Wifi accountable, maybe our next moral convulsion can be a little more chill. Here’s to hoping.
(And just in case hoping doesn’t work, write a letter to your senator or representative or favorite lawmaker and ask them to effing do their jobs and make laws. Tech antitrust and misinformation legislation can’t wait much longer.)
So...that’s that. What are your thoughts? Do you think we’ve migrated trust in things like the media and the government to individual creators with proven sway and threads aplenty? In what people and institutions are you placing your trust these days? Where are you going for answers to the tough questions?
I’d love to hear your thoughts, so I’ll be live on Instagram tomorrow (Saturday) at 11:30am ET to talk through ’em.
Now that we’ve unpacked that (big, cumbersome), allow me to open up about the other things I can’t stop thinking about lately (smaller, less cumbersome).
How many young women were inspired to pursue careers in law because of Legally Blonde? I rewatched it for the first time in ages this week and MY OH MY do I know where my early-onset feminism took root.
I think I have a new brand: The same man who last texted me what’s up at 1am on a recent Saturday also texted me this week asking about Clubhouse’s $4 billion valuation (with no communication in between those two messages). Love that for me. Don’t ever let anyone box you in.
Sometimes I see a building being erected and just think “literally how does anything get done.” How are buildings built? Or books written? Or anything else in this $19 trillion economy accomplished? Bonkers.
I’m so happy for Kim Kardashian.
And finally, one more update: If you listened to any of my recent Clubhouse rooms, you know I’ve got a ~business partner~ and his name is Josh Kaplan. Josh and I are building a new show and we’re really amped. If you want to have better conversations, stay tuned.
Right now, we’re hosting weekly Clubhouse rooms to chat about the world around us, posting shit (different from shitposting) on Twitter, and writing emails like this. Soon, we’ll have a brand new podcast and newsletter to share with you.
Can’t wait for what’s to come. Thank you for reading and see you soon <3
P.S. ILY for the immense support you showed me after my last email. It was the most personal thing I’ve ever written for an audience of more than one. And the way that all of you embraced my words and me without second thought? That was something special. Thank you.