Skip to main content

Trust ... but definitely verify

01/14/2014 07:29PM, Published by ACL, Categories:



By Lee H. Hamilton

Of all the numbers thrown at us over the course of last year, one stands out for me. I hope we can avoid repeating it this year.

That number is 12. It’s the percentage of Americans in a December Quinnipiac poll who said they trust the government in Washington to do what is right most or all of the time. It’s a depressingly small number — especially compared to the 41 percent who say they “hardly ever” trust the government. This meshes with recent polls that echo a bleak truth: Trust in government is at historically low levels.

That’s not all, though. Americans are feeling vulnerable and highly distrustful of both government and private-sector prying. More worrisome, a few months ago an AP poll found that fewer than a third of Americans trust one another. The poll’s message is clear: Our society is in the midst of a crisis in trust.

This might seem like a touchy-feely concern, but it’s not. Trust is essential to our political system and our way of life. The belief that people and institutions will do what they say they will do is the coin of the realm in our society. It is what allows people to work together — in their daily interactions with others and in their communities, legislatures and Congress. Negotiation, compromise, collegiality, and the mechanisms our complex and diverse society depends on are impossible without trust. Trust is one of the medley of virtues that have allowed our institutions to develop and prosper, along with honesty, competence, responsibility, and civility.

The breakdown in trust between Congress and the executive branch invariably brings problems: the turmoil of the Vietnam War era, Watergate, Iran-Contra, our current budget travails. A society-wide lack of trust imposes real costs. It makes the drafting of laws and their implementation extremely difficult: government becomes more expensive because it requires more emphasis on regulations and enforcement.

In fact, you could argue that we see all around us the results of our trust deficit. Government dysfunction, an economy performing below its potential, public officials’ scandals and misdeeds, trusted institutions’ willingness to skirt the law and standards of good conduct, our social safety net under attack because people mistrust recipients — all of these speak to a society struggling as trust weakens.

Yet here’s a question. Do the polls match your experience? In my case, they do not. Trust still figures in my dealings with institutions and individuals, most of whom are good people trying to live a decent life and be helpful to others. They deal with one another honorably and with care. I’m convinced that this is because, no matter what the polls say at the moment, the habits instilled by parents, schools, and a vast number of public and private institutions do not just disappear.

These habits include the experience of grappling with the challenges that representative democracy throws at us — and they serve as a reminder that we need trust in one another to make our national experiment in representative government work.

As idealistic or even naive as this may sound, we need to work toward more trust among our people and between people and their government. Some new laws might help, but the challenge is more basic than law can address. Higher standards of conduct at all levels of American life must become the norm. Trust may have weakened, but most of us do not see or experience a corrupt America. Even as we have become a larger, more diverse nation, a sense of community remains crucially important to make this country safe and secure for ourselves and our children.

We cannot take for granted our success at self-government over the centuries: the only invisible hand guiding and preserving our institutions is our collective will.

Events in recent years have given us plenty of reason to be distrustful. Clearly, healthy skepticism is warranted in the wake of the NSA revelations, the problems with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, and other evidence of both government and corporate misbehavior. In the end, however, “trust but verify” is still the golden standard. Our ability to function and move forward as a society rests on trust. Think about it.


Lee Hamilton is director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.


Like what you're reading? Subscribe to Chester County's free newsletter to catch every headline



congress lee hamilton


  • Best Summer Kids Camps in Chester County!

    06/22/2017
    09:00AM — 12:30PM

    2017 SUMMER KIDS HALF-DAY CAMP IN CHESTER SPRINGS, CHESTER COUNTY: One Week of Half-Day Art & C...


  • Test123

    06/22/2017
    03:30PM

    Some description here, Some description here, Some description here, Some description here, Some ...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    06/22/2017
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

    Clutterers Anonymous℠ (CLA℠) is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strengt...


  • RTC Broadway in the Borough

    06/22/2017
    06:00PM — 09:00AM

    Broadway in your Backyard! You don't have to drive to The City to hear professional voices and ...


  • Hydrangeas are popular shrubs beloved by gardeners for their showy flowers and unique foliage. Fr...


  • Painting for Fundraising

    06/22/2017
    06:30PM — 09:00PM

    Mark your calendars for this great event and have fun while supporting a wonderful cause! Join us...


  • Painting for FUNDraising

    06/22/2017
    06:30PM — 09:00PM

    Mark your calendars for this great event and have fun while supporting a wonderful cause! Join us...


  • Keystone Games Lacrosse Championship

    06/22/2017
    06:30PM — 08:00PM

    Keystone Games Lacrosse Championship July 29-30 High school boys players wishing to participate ...


  • Trivia Nights at Kennett Square Applebee's

    06/22/2017
    09:00PM — 11:00PM

    Start your studying for trivia nights at the Kennett Square Applebee’s! Trivia nights will be hel...


  • Sunny Summer Container

    06/23/2017
    10:30AM — 12:30PM

    Use bold foliage as the focal point for a summer container that steals the show. Interweave softe...


  • Test123

    06/23/2017
    03:30PM

    Some description here, Some description here, Some description here, Some description here, Some ...


  • Chester County Balloon Festival

    06/23/2017
    04:00PM — 10:00PM

    The Chester County Balloon Festival is known as a must-attend event! We are proud to be a non-pro...


  • Summer Nights

    06/23/2017
    04:00PM — 08:00PM

    On Fridays in June, Mt. Cuba Center extends its hours for Summer Nights. Unwind from your week an...


  • Classical Guitar Virtuoso Brad Rau

    06/23/2017
    07:00PM — 10:00PM

    Classical Guitar Virtuoso Brad Rau Friday June 23rd 2017 Kreutz Creek Wine Tasting Room 44 Ea...


  • 1st Annual Reactors Delaware county Comedy Competition. Held every Friday in June with the final...


  • Bird Walk

    06/24/2017
    09:00AM — 11:00AM

    Newlin Grist Mill and Wild Birds Unlimited-Concordville are teaming up to explore the wonderful w...


  • Best Summer Kids Camps in Chester County!

    06/24/2017
    09:00AM — 12:30PM

    2017 SUMMER KIDS HALF-DAY CAMP IN CHESTER SPRINGS, CHESTER COUNTY: One Week of Half-Day Art & C...


  • Vegetable Breeding Workshop

    06/24/2017
    09:00AM — 12:00PM

    Over the course of the two days of this workshop you will learn the importance of vegetable breed...


  • Milburn’s Pancake Breakfast!

    06/24/2017
    09:00AM — 11:00AM

    Farmer Jay whipping up pancakes!


  • History at Work: "Woodturning"

    06/24/2017
    10:00AM — 03:00PM

    Join us each month as we explore historic skills and trades with our "History at Work" demonstrat...


  • Wild Mushroom Foraging

    06/24/2017
    10:00AM — 12:30PM

    Many species of magnificent mushrooms may be growing in your own back yard. Join Tug DeLuce of th...


  • Milburn’s Very Cherry Harvest Party!

    06/24/2017
    11:00AM — 03:00PM

    No Hands Allowed!


  • Pop-Up Naturalist: "Pond Life"

    06/24/2017
    01:00PM — 05:00PM

    Join Newlin's staff naturalist for an afternoon of exciting environmental activities. Look for th...


  • Test123

    06/24/2017
    03:30PM

    Some description here, Some description here, Some description here, Some description here, Some ...


  • Chester County Balloon Festival

    06/24/2017
    04:00PM — 10:00PM

    The Chester County Balloon Festival is known as a must-attend event! We are proud to be a non-pro...


  • The Sin City Band "Unplugged"

    06/24/2017
    07:30PM — 09:30PM

    It's a rare chance to hear The Sin City Band perform in an intimate setting and unplugged. The Si...


  • Test123

    06/26/2017
    03:30PM

    Some description here, Some description here, Some description here, Some description here, Some ...


  • Art & Inspiration: Summer Art Camp

    06/26/2017
    07:00PM — 08:30PM

    Join us on four fun-filled nights for Art and Inspiration. Beginning Sunday, June 25th at 7 p.m...


  • Best Summer Kids Camps in Chester County!

    06/27/2017
    09:00AM — 12:30PM

    2017 SUMMER KIDS HALF-DAY CAMP IN CHESTER SPRINGS, CHESTER COUNTY: One Week of Half-Day Art & C...


  • Test123

    06/27/2017
    03:30PM

    Some description here, Some description here, Some description here, Some description here, Some ...


  • Art & Inspiration: Summer Art Camp

    06/27/2017
    07:00PM — 08:30PM

    Join us on four fun-filled nights for Art and Inspiration. Beginning Sunday, June 25th at 7 p.m...


  • Test123

    06/28/2017
    03:30PM

    Some description here, Some description here, Some description here, Some description here, Some ...


  • Wine and Wheels in New Garden Park

    06/28/2017
    06:00PM — 08:00PM

    Fourth Wednesday of the Month New Garden Park June 28th 6PM to dusk (Future Dates: July 26th, A...


  • Art & Inspiration: Summer Art Camp

    06/28/2017
    07:00PM — 08:30PM

    Join us on four fun-filled nights for Art and Inspiration. Beginning Sunday, June 25th at 7 p.m...


  • Best Summer Kids Camps in Chester County!

    06/22/2017
    09:00AM — 12:30PM

    2017 SUMMER KIDS HALF-DAY CAMP IN CHESTER SPRINGS, CHESTER COUNTY: One Week of Half-Day Art & C...


  • Test123

    06/22/2017
    03:30PM

    Some description here, Some description here, Some description here, Some description here, Some ...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    06/22/2017
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

    Clutterers Anonymous℠ (CLA℠) is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strengt...


  • RTC Broadway in the Borough

    06/22/2017
    06:00PM — 09:00AM

    Broadway in your Backyard! You don't have to drive to The City to hear professional voices and ...


  • Hydrangeas are popular shrubs beloved by gardeners for their showy flowers and unique foliage. Fr...


  • Painting for Fundraising

    06/22/2017
    06:30PM — 09:00PM

    Mark your calendars for this great event and have fun while supporting a wonderful cause! Join us...


  • Painting for FUNDraising

    06/22/2017
    06:30PM — 09:00PM

    Mark your calendars for this great event and have fun while supporting a wonderful cause! Join us...


  • Keystone Games Lacrosse Championship

    06/22/2017
    06:30PM — 08:00PM

    Keystone Games Lacrosse Championship July 29-30 High school boys players wishing to participate ...


  • Trivia Nights at Kennett Square Applebee's

    06/22/2017
    09:00PM — 11:00PM

    Start your studying for trivia nights at the Kennett Square Applebee’s! Trivia nights will be hel...


  • Sunny Summer Container

    06/23/2017
    10:30AM — 12:30PM

    Use bold foliage as the focal point for a summer container that steals the show. Interweave softe...


  • Test123

    06/23/2017
    03:30PM

    Some description here, Some description here, Some description here, Some description here, Some ...


  • Chester County Balloon Festival

    06/23/2017
    04:00PM — 10:00PM

    The Chester County Balloon Festival is known as a must-attend event! We are proud to be a non-pro...


  • Summer Nights

    06/23/2017
    04:00PM — 08:00PM

    On Fridays in June, Mt. Cuba Center extends its hours for Summer Nights. Unwind from your week an...


  • Classical Guitar Virtuoso Brad Rau

    06/23/2017
    07:00PM — 10:00PM

    Classical Guitar Virtuoso Brad Rau Friday June 23rd 2017 Kreutz Creek Wine Tasting Room 44 Ea...


  • 1st Annual Reactors Delaware county Comedy Competition. Held every Friday in June with the final...


  • Bird Walk

    06/24/2017
    09:00AM — 11:00AM

    Newlin Grist Mill and Wild Birds Unlimited-Concordville are teaming up to explore the wonderful w...


  • Best Summer Kids Camps in Chester County!

    06/24/2017
    09:00AM — 12:30PM

    2017 SUMMER KIDS HALF-DAY CAMP IN CHESTER SPRINGS, CHESTER COUNTY: One Week of Half-Day Art & C...


  • Vegetable Breeding Workshop

    06/24/2017
    09:00AM — 12:00PM

    Over the course of the two days of this workshop you will learn the importance of vegetable breed...


  • Milburn’s Pancake Breakfast!

    06/24/2017
    09:00AM — 11:00AM

    Farmer Jay whipping up pancakes!


  • History at Work: "Woodturning"

    06/24/2017
    10:00AM — 03:00PM

    Join us each month as we explore historic skills and trades with our "History at Work" demonstrat...


  • Wild Mushroom Foraging

    06/24/2017
    10:00AM — 12:30PM

    Many species of magnificent mushrooms may be growing in your own back yard. Join Tug DeLuce of th...


  • Milburn’s Very Cherry Harvest Party!

    06/24/2017
    11:00AM — 03:00PM

    No Hands Allowed!


  • Pop-Up Naturalist: "Pond Life"

    06/24/2017
    01:00PM — 05:00PM

    Join Newlin's staff naturalist for an afternoon of exciting environmental activities. Look for th...


  • Test123

    06/24/2017
    03:30PM

    Some description here, Some description here, Some description here, Some description here, Some ...


  • Chester County Balloon Festival

    06/24/2017
    04:00PM — 10:00PM

    The Chester County Balloon Festival is known as a must-attend event! We are proud to be a non-pro...


  • The Sin City Band "Unplugged"

    06/24/2017
    07:30PM — 09:30PM

    It's a rare chance to hear The Sin City Band perform in an intimate setting and unplugged. The Si...


  • Best Summer Kids Camps in Chester County!

    06/25/2017
    09:00AM — 12:30PM

    2017 SUMMER KIDS HALF-DAY CAMP IN CHESTER SPRINGS, CHESTER COUNTY: One Week of Half-Day Art & C...


  • Milburn’s Pancake Breakfast!

    06/25/2017
    09:00AM — 11:00AM

    Farmer Jay whipping up pancakes!


  • Weeds for Wellness

    06/25/2017
    10:00AM — 01:00PM

    Some of the most common weeds are sources of medicines, and they're almost always available for f...


  • Milburn’s Very Cherry Harvest Party!

    06/25/2017
    11:00AM — 03:00PM

    No Hands Allowed!


  • Test123

    06/25/2017
    03:30PM

    Some description here, Some description here, Some description here, Some description here, Some ...


  • Chester County Balloon Festival

    06/25/2017
    04:00PM — 10:00PM

    The Chester County Balloon Festival is known as a must-attend event! We are proud to be a non-pro...


  • Art & Inspiration: Summer Art Camp

    06/25/2017
    07:00PM — 08:30PM

    Join us on four fun-filled nights for Art and Inspiration. Beginning Sunday, June 25th at 7 p.m...


  • Test123

    06/26/2017
    03:30PM

    Some description here, Some description here, Some description here, Some description here, Some ...


  • Art & Inspiration: Summer Art Camp

    06/26/2017
    07:00PM — 08:30PM

    Join us on four fun-filled nights for Art and Inspiration. Beginning Sunday, June 25th at 7 p.m...


  • Best Summer Kids Camps in Chester County!

    06/27/2017
    09:00AM — 12:30PM

    2017 SUMMER KIDS HALF-DAY CAMP IN CHESTER SPRINGS, CHESTER COUNTY: One Week of Half-Day Art & C...


  • Test123

    06/27/2017
    03:30PM

    Some description here, Some description here, Some description here, Some description here, Some ...


  • Art & Inspiration: Summer Art Camp

    06/27/2017
    07:00PM — 08:30PM

    Join us on four fun-filled nights for Art and Inspiration. Beginning Sunday, June 25th at 7 p.m...


  • Test123

    06/28/2017
    03:30PM

    Some description here, Some description here, Some description here, Some description here, Some ...


  • Wine and Wheels in New Garden Park

    06/28/2017
    06:00PM — 08:00PM

    Fourth Wednesday of the Month New Garden Park June 28th 6PM to dusk (Future Dates: July 26th, A...


  • Art & Inspiration: Summer Art Camp

    06/28/2017
    07:00PM — 08:30PM

    Join us on four fun-filled nights for Art and Inspiration. Beginning Sunday, June 25th at 7 p.m...


  • Best Summer Kids Camps in Chester County!

    06/29/2017
    09:00AM — 12:30PM

    2017 SUMMER KIDS HALF-DAY CAMP IN CHESTER SPRINGS, CHESTER COUNTY: One Week of Half-Day Art & C...


  • Milkweeds for Monarchs

    06/29/2017
    10:00AM — 12:00PM

    Help our monarch butterfly populations survive and reproduce by planting native milkweeds. David ...


  • Test123

    06/29/2017
    03:30PM

    Some description here, Some description here, Some description here, Some description here, Some ...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    06/29/2017
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

    Clutterers Anonymous℠ (CLA℠) is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strengt...


  • Trivia Nights at Kennett Square Applebee's

    06/29/2017
    09:00PM — 11:00PM

    Start your studying for trivia nights at the Kennett Square Applebee’s! Trivia nights will be hel...


  • Summer Nights

    06/30/2017
    04:00PM — 08:00PM

    On Fridays in June, Mt. Cuba Center extends its hours for Summer Nights. Unwind from your week an...


  • 1st Annual Reactors Delaware county Comedy Competition. Held every Friday in June with the final...


  • Best Summer Kids Camps in Chester County!

    07/01/2017
    09:00AM — 12:30PM

    2017 SUMMER KIDS HALF-DAY CAMP IN CHESTER SPRINGS, CHESTER COUNTY: One Week of Half-Day Art & C...


  • Best Summer Kids Camps in Chester County!

    07/02/2017
    09:00AM — 12:30PM

    2017 SUMMER KIDS HALF-DAY CAMP IN CHESTER SPRINGS, CHESTER COUNTY: One Week of Half-Day Art & C...


  • Best Summer Kids Camps in Chester County!

    07/04/2017
    09:00AM — 12:30PM

    2017 SUMMER KIDS HALF-DAY CAMP IN CHESTER SPRINGS, CHESTER COUNTY: One Week of Half-Day Art & C...


  • Best Summer Kids Camps in Chester County!

    07/06/2017
    09:00AM — 12:30PM

    2017 SUMMER KIDS HALF-DAY CAMP IN CHESTER SPRINGS, CHESTER COUNTY: One Week of Half-Day Art & C...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    07/06/2017
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

    Clutterers Anonymous℠ (CLA℠) is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strengt...


  • Trivia Nights at Kennett Square Applebee's

    07/06/2017
    09:00PM — 11:00PM

    Start your studying for trivia nights at the Kennett Square Applebee’s! Trivia nights will be hel...


  • Best Summer Kids Camps in Chester County!

    07/08/2017
    09:00AM — 12:30PM

    2017 SUMMER KIDS HALF-DAY CAMP IN CHESTER SPRINGS, CHESTER COUNTY: One Week of Half-Day Art & C...


  • Hedgerows for Pollinators

    07/08/2017
    10:00AM — 01:00PM

    Hedgerows are "living fences" that provide visual screens and windbreaks between neighbors. When ...


  • Best Summer Kids Camps in Chester County!

    07/09/2017
    09:00AM — 12:30PM

    2017 SUMMER KIDS HALF-DAY CAMP IN CHESTER SPRINGS, CHESTER COUNTY: One Week of Half-Day Art & C...


  • Aromatherapy in the Garden

    07/09/2017
    01:00PM — 03:00PM

    Immerse yourself in the scents of summer and discover how fragrant plants enhance your well-being...


  • Enjoy and appreciate a week of nature at Nottingham Park. Delight in a daily hike with a Nottingh...


  • Enjoy and appreciate a week of nature at Nottingham Park. Delight in a daily hike with a Nottingh...


  • Best Summer Kids Camps in Chester County!

    07/11/2017
    09:00AM — 12:30PM

    2017 SUMMER KIDS HALF-DAY CAMP IN CHESTER SPRINGS, CHESTER COUNTY: One Week of Half-Day Art & C...


  • Enjoy and appreciate a week of nature at Nottingham Park. Delight in a daily hike with a Nottingh...


  • Summer Concert Series

    07/12/2017
    06:30PM — 07:30PM

    The Hickman Friends Senior Community Presents Summer Concert Series Wednesday, June 14th - Good ...


  • T'ai Chi Chih

    07/13/2017
    07:30AM — 08:30AM

    Interested in exploring a gentle moving meditation that helps dissolve tension, reduce chronic pa...


  • Enjoy and appreciate a week of nature at Nottingham Park. Delight in a daily hike with a Nottingh...


  • Best Summer Kids Camps in Chester County!

    07/13/2017
    09:00AM — 12:30PM

    2017 SUMMER KIDS HALF-DAY CAMP IN CHESTER SPRINGS, CHESTER COUNTY: One Week of Half-Day Art & C...


  • Integrated Pest Management

    07/13/2017
    10:00AM — 02:30PM

    Every garden is home to a host of life. Unfortunately, some of the six- and eight legged inhabita...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    07/13/2017
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

    Clutterers Anonymous℠ (CLA℠) is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strengt...


  • Trivia Nights at Kennett Square Applebee's

    07/13/2017
    09:00PM — 11:00PM

    Start your studying for trivia nights at the Kennett Square Applebee’s! Trivia nights will be hel...


Chester County High School Sports