SAND PATCH, Pa. – For more than 100 years trains have battled the steep grade from Washington, D.C., to all points west in the country as they cross the summit of the Allegheny Mountain range 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 Washington D.C., a homemade sign, barely visible in the freshly fallen snow, reading "In God We Trust" 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 as she braced herself in the observation car as it chugged the precipitous hills and curves.
The woman's chance glimpse of a sign unknowingly answered 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, and in fact that trust has grown, said 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; last 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. Government came in even lower, at 41 percent; trust in military has grown, and trust in business is a bit stronger than the media and government, but not by much.
The question is why?
The answer to that is complicated, long and 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. In short, to win elections or to encourage you to purchase something, they are promising you either that good jobs are coming back or that you'll feel better when you use their product.
The truth is the jobs aren't coming back because 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.
They might even be after yours as well.
Think about this: 20 percent of men in this country make their money by driving something that takes you from one place to another. In four years we will be well on our way to eliminating their jobs.
Don't think they don't know this, and don't think that instability is not on their minds daily.
And think about the institutional fractures in our communities; how much lead is in our water? Is that bridge I cross everyday safe to use? Why are our school systems failing our children? Why are my healthcare costs so high? Why has no one in the Catholic Church faced crime and punishment for their actions? Why do CEOs get paid so much money as their workers lose their jobs? 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.
Culturally, Hollywood is always making fun of about 65 percent of the country and politics has invaded everything we do — from entertainment to corporate Tweeting on hot-button issues.
And ESPN and Colin Kaepernick have ruined for everyone the one remaining force that crosses the cultural divide, sports.
While it is not intellectually healthy, it is no wonder people have started consuming their information, entertainment and news from people and peers just like them, a phenomenon that has not only increased the divide between the elites and Main Street but has also spread misinformation at an alarming rate.
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 easy single answer.
In interviews with voters who rebelled against the status quo by voting for unorthodox candidates like Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary or Donald Trump in the general election, there was a comprehensive perception that all of the mainstream institutions in American culture — media, banks, government, entertainment and business — have all behaved as a band of elitist forces stockpiling all of the monies of society and deliberately pushing them out.
Rebuilding that trust most likely begins at the most local level — in neighborhood banks, at local companies and with reporters who are more like them, interactions whose authority they can trust to be fair, removed from coastal or cosmopolitan biases.
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 of the tunnel flows to the Atlantic Ocean.
But it draws railfans from both sides of the country to its location because of the grueling 1.94 percent grade and the impressive feat locomotives achieve every single time they successfully reach the summit and go on with the business of delivering commerce and people.
Businesses and people have trusted the same companies that have watched industry grow and decline on this route — CSX and Amtrak to deliver — no matter the economic or political conditions.
Perhaps there is a lesson there as Americans and American institutions grapple with how they restore and earn each other's trust again.
Salena Zito is a columnist for the Washington Examiner.