Do you trust the government? In a recent poll of the Hudson Valley campus, 85% said “No,” and 15% said “Yes.”
Government trust is currently low in the United States. According to national polls, few people trust the government. 26% of citizens trust the government according to the Pew Research Center, 24% according to Rasmussen Reports, and 19% according to Gallup.
Professor Todd Wysocki stated that trust is very important.
“Trust is the most important part of any relationship,” said Wysocki.
While it is normally applied to personal relationships, this concept can also be applied to the relationship between citizen and government. Wysocki noted that trust is built up slowly. It erodes in the same way and a lack of trust between the public and the government will likely take a while to overcome.
In this year alone we have seen the scandals involving the NSA and IRS. The National Security Agency is collecting mass data on the public. The Internal Revenue Service has abused its power and targeted groups based on political ideology. These types of stories continue to take a toll on the level of public trust.
However, the mistrust of government is nothing new.
A critical point in history that trust the erosion of trust was in the late 60s and early 70s when the Vietnam War was followed by the Watergate scandal.
According to Professor Robert Whitaker, these events made Americans reconsider their faith in government.
Scandals are regular and political dialogue is too often misleading. This causes many to become alienated and apathetic to the political process which weakens the electorate’s ability to proactively improve the situation.
As America debates on whether or not to launch a military strike on Syria, we remember the legacy of mistrust caused by the Iraq War. Reps. Paul Tonko and Chris Gibson, who both represent local districts, have spoken critically about military intervention. Polls continue to show that the majority of Americans are opposed to war with Syria.
Do we trust the government to play a bigger role in health care? If the government is untrustworthy, then is our right to own a gun even more important? Should the government be decreased in size through budget cuts because it can’t be trusted and should be minimized? Nearly every current policy debate carries the theme of how much we trust the government. Policy makers and the people who elect them must continuously look at such questions.
Low levels of confidence in government can debilitate our democracy, but a certain level of skepticism is healthy. There has always been an element of mistrust toward government in American history. It is a fundamental aspect of our national ideology and stems from our founding by revolution. Positive results of such a mindset are checks on power built into the system. Dissatisfaction with government can fuel action and improvement.
There have been many people in America who have acted on this popular sentiment. Politically progressive movements such as Occupy, the Young Americans for Liberty, and the Tea Party, are fueled by societal discontent. Grassroots action is positive for improving the functioning of government.
A better political culture with higher levels of activity could empower individuals and communities and make us less vulnerable if our government truly is not worthy of trust.
Eventually, if the younger generation is successful, a better relationship between citizen and government may be established.
Author: Pat Gareau