How chronic distrust became a way of life

It’s been 50 years since the Watergate scandal. Our trust in institutions has never quite recovered.

On June 17, 1972, police arrested a group of burglars at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. Evidence linked the attempted burglary to US President Nixon’s campaign for re-election – leading to a Senate investigation that ultimately led to Nixon’s resignation.

Since then, the suffix ‘gate’ has been attached to any scandal (political or otherwise), story of mismanagement and abuse, or suggestion of a cover-up. The net effect has been to dissolve people’s trust that they’re being told the truth. 

Half a century on, we live in societies of chronic distrust, as measured by annual polls like the Edelman Trust Barometer, and research conducted by organisations like More in Common, which studies polarisation and political division across the West.

In this episode of Life & Faith, we revisit the main beats of the Watergate scandal and its reverberations in our culture – and popular culture. We also explore what it means for our societies when distrust has become a way of life, and the role of local communities – including, surprisingly, communities of faith – in nurturing trust between people. 


Garrett M. Graff’s Watergate: A New History

More in Common’s 2021 research report Two Stories of Distrust in America

Edelman Trust Barometer 2022