The past week convinced me that our national problems are deep, real and will harm our ability to return to normal for a long, long time. And, I am not talking about the events at our nation’s Capitol. I’m talking about our inability to trust our political leadership or major institutions. And, worse yet, their lack of interest or ability to want to earn the trust of all Americans.

Like most citizens, while I was gravely concerned about what was happening in Washington D.C., I had a responsibility to continue my work. Even with an eye on my iPhone, the day-to-day mission and planning for the Chester County Chamber of Business & Industry’s future goes on.

We continue to focus on safely re-opening the economy by engaging with policymakers, businesses owners, our members and medical professionals. We are committed to ensuring that no one is left behind and that all of us have the opportunity to be self-sufficient and to set our own destiny. That’s why this past week, I participated in four town hall meetings about the distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine.

But instead of being a light at the end of the tunnel, these briefings by experts and my conversations with chamber members and peers unfortunately gave me even more anxiety about where our country stands. It became clearer than ever to me that distrust of government, experts and the media has spilled into what would otherwise be one of science’s—and society’s—greatest accomplishments: the speedy creation of a novel vaccine.

We are without leaders who have the ability to effectively communicate to us. They lack credibility, candor and directness.

Why? Because most Americans no longer trust those health and policy makers offering us guidance on the virus—and, thus, the vaccine. Additionally, as we are in month ten of the pandemic, those making policy decisions have become so disconnected from everyday citizens that they either don’t know or don’t care that many have stopped listening.  

Their world is not our world. Their goals are not our goals. 

First, even in the greatest information era in the history of civilization, many do not know when they’ll be vaccinated. The distribution plans are available everywhere. Tragically, because many citizens no longer trust decision-makers or health “experts”—let alone the media—when they find the plans online, they don’t trust them. Even if they do trust the source, they find the plan’s timelines and categories so vague that the information is almost meaningless, which brings me to our second problem.

Our leaders don’t answer simple questions. To be slightly more charitable, we are without leaders who have the ability to effectively communicate to us. They lack credibility, candor and directness.

For example, I was on a Zoom-briefing with Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Rachael Levine. Two similar, straightforward questions were posed to the secretary: “When will Pa. lift all the executive orders?” and “What percentage of the population needs to be vaccinated before we return to normal?” The answers were terse,  meaningless and disheartening.

Q. When will the executive orders be lifted? 

A. Secretary Levine did not know and did not wish to offer an estimate

Q. What percentage of the population needs to be vaccinated? 

A. Secretary Levine stated that Dr Fauci hadn’t decided (sigh); and then, there was spitballing—maybe 80 percent, maybe 90 percent. 

(FYI, no one under 16, or 18, is being vaccinated: so, how do we get to 90 percent? And, in a typical year, only about 40-50 percent of us get the flu vaccine.)  

This leads to our third problem. It’s clear that the governor and health secretary—and many in Harrisburg and D.C.—have absolutely no sense of urgency. We are weeks away from a full year of lockdowns, masks and restrictions on everyday life. Yet, those in power do not seem the least bit troubled that they are still exercising massive, atypical power. And there is no serious effort to create and promulgate plans to return to economic and political normalcy. One is left to assume that they either don’t have a plan or they do but don’t care to tell us out of contempt for the very citizens to which they are held accountable.

The bumbling attempt to vaccinate Pennsylvania and the ambivalence shown by my friends, neighbors and chamber peers have reminded me that the long-term damage from Covid may not only be the thousands of deaths and the economic and psychological pain caused by the lockdowns. The Covid era may also be the straw that broke our nation’s ability to trust. 

I hope that I will be proven wrong. I hope that some of our political leaders realize that trust must be earned. Because only then can we rebuild.

Guy Ciarrocchi is the President & CEO of the Chester County Chamber of Business & Industry.

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