Pete Buttigieg talks how to heal America in new book ‘Trust’


Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg spoke on Thursday night, at the Democratic National Convention and told voters the election of Joe Biden in November offers a chance for positive change in American society. (Aug. 20)

AP Domestic

The coronavirus continues to spread around the U.S. at an alarming rate. What’s not spreading, however, is trust in our institutions to adequately control and provide facts surrounding it.

So when a world leader like President Donald Trump says he’s tested positive for COVID-19, it makes sense that a portion of the American electorate don’t believe him.

“We’re going to have a lot of trouble confronting the problems of our reality if we can’t agree on what that reality is,” Pete Buttigieg, the former Democratic presidential candidate and mayor of South Bend, Indiana, tells USA TODAY in a recent interview. His new book, “Trust” (Liveright, 223 pp.), out Tuesday, details the decline of trust in the U.S. both domestically and abroad – and ways we might be able to get it back.

“Trust by its very nature is also an act of vulnerability,” Buttigieg says. “In order to get through the divisions we have in our country now, we need to make some down payments on that kind of vulnerability.”

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Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, waves after speaking at the “Our Rights, Our Courts” forum at New Hampshire Technical Institute’s Concord Community College on Saturday. (Photo: Andrew Harnik, AP)

Buttigieg hopes President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump ‘recover quickly’

Buttigieg echoed former Vice President and current Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and running mate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), wishing the president well. In addition to the president and first lady, White House cases have grown in recent days.

“I was troubled to hear it and I hope that the president and first lady recover quickly,” he says. “The bigger issue is that our ability to solve any problems together, especially ones that require cooperation, such as defeating a pandemic, really do depend on having a high level of trust. Many of the countries that have had the most success dealing with the pandemic have much higher levels of social trust.”

Buttigieg wanted to write this book to start conversations as election day approaches about the work needed as a country to establish more robust social and political trust.

Trump’s positive case could mean “some people will take this virus more seriously after seeing that, literally, no one, even the most powerful person in the country, is immune,” Buttigieg says. “And if that motivates some people to pay closer attention to safety guidelines, or public health warning, then maybe that response can do some good.”

In the book, Buttigieg alludes to a potentially fraught transition of power should Trump lose the election.

“Like denouncing white supremacy, it should be the easiest question in the world to answer because there’s only one answer that’s acceptable,” Buttigieg tells USA TODAY. “And that is that of course, the president, and every presidential candidate, should be committed to that peaceful transfer of power.”

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Buttigieg on systemic racism: ‘I lack perspective’

As far as tangible solutions to improve trust, Buttigieg suggests in his book fairer tax rates and the formation of a truth and reconciliation commission (i.e. what South Africa did when ending the apartheid regime) to help the country grapple with its demons. This could include one on systemic racism.

Buttigieg also details a June 2019 incident in South Bend where a white police officer shot Eric Logan, a Black man, who later died. The officer’s body camera was not activated at the time and he faced no charges. Buttigieg knew part of his job was to address what happened and to try and build trust outside of the specific tragedy. A year later, after the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died while being pinned by a white Minneapolis police officer, the nation would undergo its own, much larger reckoning.

“When it comes to the broader patterns of systemic racism, I consider myself someone who has been exposed, as we all have, to something toxic, and we need to confront that and recognize it,” he says. “I think part of why it’s difficult for many white Americans with good intentions to really make the changes that need to happen is the idea that carrying any kind of bias is a character flaw that makes you a bad person, when, honestly, it’s something that all of us are susceptible to.”

He says white Americans must realize they’ve been operating in a world where whiteness is the default.

“I know that, as simply by virtue of being a white American, I lack perspective on the lived experience of those who have been treated worse because of the color of their skin,” he says. Michael Harriot, senior writer for The Root, took Buttigieg to task late last year on the subject .

The color of our skin evidently gives us a different outlook on trust.

“We need to recognize where trust has not been placed equally in Americans by institutions,” he says. “It’s not just how we trust institutions, it’s how institutions trust us. People of color and Black Americans in particular have been trying to be heard for a very long time on the consequences of living in a country that failed to trust them with presumptions of dangerousness that make everyday life harder.” 

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Will Buttigieg run for president again?

Buttigieg was the first out gay man to run for president from a major party. Since his historic campaign fell apart during the primaries, Buttigieg has been busy working to help Biden get elected.

“That’s been everything from speaking to reporters and stations in swing states to helping to raise resources, encouraging other surrogates and my own previous supporters to do the same,” he says. “And as much as might be possible safely, perhaps some travel in the homestretch too.” 

Buttigieg’s husband Chasten Buttigieg told USA TODAY in August that the pair are exploring the possibility of starting a family, which he noted was a confusing process but one they’re excited about.

But will he run for president again? “I don’t know. I learned a lot about the country, about myself running and I’m proud of the campaign we ran but also really proud to be helping (Biden) and (Harris) to the best of my ability,” he says. “We’ll see where things go from here. But as painful and dark as 2020 has been I still believe this could be remembered as a hinge point that brought us to a better future.”

For more from Chasten: Chasten Buttigieg talks Biden, quarantine and new memoir

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