Salzburg Cutler Fellows Call for Renewed Public Trust

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Feb 13, 2021
by Salzburg Global Seminar
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Salzburg Cutler Fellows Call for Renewed Public Trust

Inaugural online Cutler Fellows alumni event was addressed by former UK Prime Minister Theresa May and former US Secretary for Homeland Security Jeh Johnson Former UK Prime Minister Theresa May and former US Secretary for Homeland Security Jeh Johnson took part in an off-the-record conversation

Salzburg Cutler Fellows and their European peers called for renewed public trust in government and a rebuilding of the Transatlantic partnership at the inaugural Cutler Fellows online alumni event Protecting Public Safety While Respecting Civil Liberties.

The January 13 program opened with a discussion between former US Secretary for Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and former UK Prime Minister Theresa May, who had served as Johnson’s counterpart during her tenure as UK Home Secretary 2010-16. The candid, off-the-record conversation was moderated by Salzburg Global Board Member and former Legal Adviser to the US Department of State and National Security Council, John Bellinger III.

The wide-ranging discussion touched on a variety of issues, from the importance of maintaining civil liberties in the face of ongoing coronavirus pandemic to the rights of terrorist suspects and the security failings that led to the insurrection at the US Capitol the week before.

Of particular interest to the Cutler Fellows in their questions of Johnson and May and in their breakout discussions was the importance of public trust in governments in order to maintain public order and secure public safety.

Deterioration in the public’s trust in government was recognized as being a key threat to a successful coordinated response to the COVID-19 pandemic, fueled by an abundance of conflicting information available online and a growing politicization of measures such as mask-wearing and business closures.

The reasons for this distrust vary between countries; its specific roots need to be understood before appropriate action can be taken. Root causes identified in the Fellows’ discussions included: lack of representative government, increased polarization between political parties that fuel distrust for their own gains, and the proliferation of misinformation on poorly regulated social media platforms.

Ensuring a well-informed populace fully understands and trusts the regulations, measures and vaccines being issued by the government was identified as a key priority for governments at all levels in both countries. Simply removing “bad actors” from social media platforms might give temporary reprieve in the viral spread of misinformation, but this can lead to longer-term difficulties beyond the pandemic. As one Fellow remarked: “They haven’t gone away; they are just harder to police if we can’t see what they are saying.” A more nuanced approach was thus recommended. Extensive cooperation between government, educators, traditional media outlets and social media platforms will be required in order to rebuild public trust, some of the Cutler Fellows advised.

The young lawyers gathered in the program also called for a renewal of the Transatlantic partnership with the incoming of a new presidential administration under the less internationally confrontational and more congenial Joe Biden. The lack of international cooperation not only in the face of the ongoing pandemic but also in recent years on climate change was lamented by the audience and speakers alike.

While their European counterparts expressed reassurance that long-held alliances could be reaffirmed, there was reticence between both the American and European participants about the likelihood of adversaries such as Iran being willing to come back to the negotiating table, even under a new, non-Trump administration.

The event closed with remarks from Salzburg Global Vice President and Chief Program Officer Clare Shine who urged the young lawyers to take the opportunity through Salzburg Global’s new quarterly online program series to build a network of young American and European lawyers dedicated to shaping fair and equitable legal systems.

The Salzburg Cutler Fellow Program was launched by Salzburg Global Seminar in 2012 under the auspices of the Lloyd N. Cutler Center for the Rule of Law. The Program brings together 50-60 young lawyers from top American law schools for an intensive weekend program, usually held in Washington DC. In 2021, the usual weekend program will be held online over the month of March, with additional alumni events, such as this one, held throughout the year.

This new online series of alumni events will feature top-level speakers and expand the Cutler Fellows network outwards to include young European lawyers and aspiring leaders in the field of international law and public practice.

For more information, please contact: Alexis Stangarone, Special Assistant, Office of the President, astangarone@salzburgglobal.org