SAND PATCH, Pa. — For more than 100 years, trains have battled the steep grade from Washington, D.C., to all points west as they cross the summit of the Allegheny Mountains at this small hamlet just east of Meyersdale.
Last week, as the Capitol Express was once again making its way from Chicago to its final destination in the District, a homemade sign reading "In God We Trust," barely visible in the freshly fallen snow, caught the glare of the lights of the train.
It also caught the eye of a lone woman peering out the window of the glass-domed sightseer car. "Trust ... Something lost and rarely found in this country," she said out loud to no one in particular."
She unknowingly touched on the increasing problem facing our culture and society: Whom do we trust? The answer, it appears, is no one.
Well, that's not entirely true. We trust our military, says Richard Edelman, CEO of one of the world's largest public relations consultancies. "Outside of that, we are in such a crisis with trust that our faith and connection with the integral parts of our society is in collapse," he said.
Edelman's firm has been conducting the Trust Barometer survey for 17 years. This year, the bottom dropped out, and he is not quite sure how that tangible connection people have with institutions and expertise can be restored. Only 43 percent of people said they trust the media, a whopping 5 percent drop from last year.
The question is why?
The answer to that is complicated and long, and it crosses all sections of society. It didn't happen overnight and was likely unavoidable to a certain extent.
First of all, our technological advances have placed society in a position that has destabilized our institutions' relationship with the people.
The truth is that company that makes you feel good is creating automation that will eliminate a lot of the jobs of the people who work in your community by the next presidential election.
Think about this: Twenty percent of men in this country make their money by driving something that takes you from one place to another. Don't think they don't know this, and don't think that instability is not on their minds daily.
Think about the institutional fractures in our communities. Is that bridge I cross every day safe to use? Why are our school systems failing our children? Why are my health care costs so high? Why do banks get bailouts but we don't?
Our local newspapers are closing rapidly, leaving no one to hold local governments accountable. And our national media has lost our trust because it is all centrally located in nine of the 10 wealthiest counties in the country, and everyone they know sees the world the same way they do.
We feel destabilized, uncertain and disillusioned by everything that was supposed to lift us up. Even family icons like Bill Cosby have let us down. And ESPN and San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick have ruined for everyone the one remaining force that crosses the cultural divide: sports.
So how do we reconstruct this sluggish smothering decline in the real value of America's trust in institutions when opportunities continue to shrink rather than grow? There is no single easy answer.
Rebuilding that trust most likely begins at the most local level — in neighborhood banks and local companies, and with local reporters who are more like them, who they can trust to be fair and removed from coastal or cosmopolitan biases.
We need a trust that can also repair our divide.
Sand Patch marks the summit of the Alleghenies and the Eastern Continental Divide. Any rain that falls on the western end of the tunnel flows to the Gulf of Mexico; the rain falling at the eastern end flows to the Atlantic Ocean.
Businesses and people have trusted the same companies that have watched industry grow and decline on this route, no matter the economic or political conditions.
As Americans and American institutions grapple with how to restore and earn each other's trust again, perhaps there is a lesson there.
Salena Zito is a CNN political analyst, and a staff reporter and columnist for the Washington Examiner. She reaches the Everyman and Everywoman through shoe-leather journalism, traveling from Main Street to the beltway and all places in between. To find out more about Salena and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.