Does expertise matter anymore? Donald Trump became the 45th President of the United States without any experience in public service. He beat a democratic opponent who served most of her adult life as a public servant. He was a charismatic political candidate who led by emotion with a disdain toward the minutia of policy debate. Every major polling organization in the country had Hillary Clinton outlasting President Trump in the presidential race. He proved them all wrong.
The death of expertise is just not a U.S. phenomenon. This wave of populism hit Great Britain with their voting to leave the European Union. The result defied national observers, flew directly in the face of conventional wisdom and sent shock waves throughout the world economy.
This notion that experience, expertise, education and competence does not matter anymore is showing up in the federal sector. According to the Pew Research Center, trust that the federal government experts will do the right thing is at an all-time low.
Pew also reports that deep gaps exist between how republicans and democrats view some of our most vital institutions. Republicans rank banks and religious institutions as the important organizations of our society while democrats grade labor unions, national media and colleges and universities as having the most positive impact on our country. Notice neither party listed the federal government as a major player in what is constructive for our nation.
Most significant to this ‘don’t trust the experts’ mentality that faces the federal government and its customers, is the national opinion pinpointed by Pew that identified speaking English, being a Christian, sharing American values and having been born in the U.S. as the most important values to being a good American. Since the federal government is tasked with defending some of the opposite views of the above philosophies like same sex marriage, equal employment opportunity, multi-cultural education and fair immigration policies, it is easy to see how feds have entered into a no-win situation when it comes to enforcing our nation’s 21st century norms and dealing with those who long for the 1950’s again.
The group Ideas for Leaders (IFL) has some views on this notion of the death of the expert. They work with business schools across the United Kingdom, United States and Japan to identify academic research and translate this information into actionable strategies that leaders can implement for their organizations.
They have identified two major areas where reliance has broken down between our government institutions and the people they serve:
IFL cites the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer that suggests the trust gap between grassroots citizens and federal authority figures has widened significantly. They claim that a healthy skepticism has always existed between taxpayers and the federal government. However, that incredulity has grown into outright hostility often times fueled by social media, partisanship and politics of personal destruction as witnessed by a recent shooting of a U.S. Congressman in Alexandria, VA.
Adding fuel to this fire is the likelihood that many citizens tend to believe online media sources over mainstream media outlets, which has led to the recent trend of fake news. This reinforces in-group bias as taxpayers gravitate toward news sources that support their views of the world regardless of whether the assessment of those events is actually true.
The Disconnected Expert
IFL claims the federal government makes the frequent mistake of taking a macro-view of data that impacts their customers while ignoring a boots on the ground view of the same information.
In the same vein, taxpayers tend to make decisions based on their own experience bias that is regulated by their backyard, local think view of world.
What does the future hold for this post truth impression of national events? Is there still a role for so-called federal experts? Will the lack of critical reasoning by our customers continue to widen the trust gap?
I don’t begin to know the answer to the above question as I respond with a question of my own. If we cannot rely on experts, who do we turn to for the certainty and relatedness we all need to navigate a volatile, uncertain, ambiguous and constantly changing world.