For years leading up to the 2016 US Presidential election, I began to notice a growing sense of mistrust in many of our democratic institutions. Dinner table discussions, visits, and phone calls with friends were filled with retorts about untrustworthy institutions, the failings of past presidencies, and other similar musings. “It just feels more like everyone is out for themselves these days,” one friend shared. I wondered if this was just part of getting older and having more of these types of discussions, or was it indicative of something broader?

The 2016 election itself put this sense of mistrust right on display. Mistrust in how the candidates handled their affairs. Mistrust in the election results being accurate. Mistrust of each political party’s commitment to what was best for America. It was—and continues to be—exhausting.

After the 2016 election, a friend and collaborator, David Tansey, began stepping out of our typical urban reality to see if we could better understand this landscape of mistrust. We traveled to areas of Pennsylvania that had voted for President Trump, sat in on town halls, and volunteered to help conduct a door-to-door policy survey. I also personally explored my family history and came to learn of our relation to Moses Stanford, a minuteman of the Revolutionary War—and distant relative to Leland Stanford, the founder of Stanford University. The conversations we engaged in, and the personal history of this service, inspired me to start researching and writing this book, Engaged.

Read the full article about building a new civic culture by Andrew Sommers at Stanford Social Innovation Review.