Why don’t Americans trust the government and other institutions? Maybe it’s because the government and other institutions aren’t trustworthy. There’s certainly plenty of evidence for both the lack of trust and trustworthiness. And if the trend continues, it bodes poorly for America.
The news is bad on the lack of trust. A recent University of Chicago Institute of Politics poll found that a majority of Americans think that the government is corrupt and rigged against the commoner. Two-thirds of Republicans and independents felt that way, but things weren’t much better among liberals, 51% of whom agreed. So this isn’t the usual sour grapes from the party out of power—it’s general sentiment.
Why do people feel that way? Well, that’s a real poser, but here is a suggestion: They feel that way because they’ve noticed that the government is corrupt and rigged against the common people like them. Those in government live in a world of revolving doors and no consequences. Fail in protecting or serving the public? You’ll likely get off scot-free and land in a cushy private sector position after your public service is over. Then, next time your party is in power, you’ll likely move back into another government position that will set you up for an even cushier private sector job later.
Did you champion a policy that failed spectacularly, spread misery around the globe or got people killed? No matter. The chance that you will face anything worse than a critical op-ed is tiny.
As Peggy Noonan says, our society is divided into the “protected” class, which makes policies, and the “unprotected “ class that has to live with the policies and their consequences. Your kids may lose their jobs because of green-energy policies; the protected class’ kids will find lucrative positions as green-energy consultants or private-equity partners. Inflation makes food and gas expensive? You’ll feel it but they will barely notice. War overseas? Their kids won’t be the ones fighting.
And now they’ve become shameless. Note the recent effort to redefine recession before the announcement of another negative gross domestic product output. The textbook definition of recession is two consecutive quarters (six months) of economic decline. Now it means….sometimes else.
What else? Whatever is convenient. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen went on TV and said that even if this quarter’s numbers print negative (they did), it’s not a recession because…well, just because. As investment expert Jeffrey Carter says” She’s wrong. She knows it. She told a pretty big fib for a political spin and didn’t do it convincingly.”
Other administrative mouthpieces claimed it won’t count as a recession until the National Bureau of Economic Research pronounces it one, a year or more after the fact.(Conveniently after the midterm elections) They pursued the same strategy in 2008.
But the distrust extends beyond politics. Americans don’t trust institutions in general, according to a Gallup poll conducted in June of 2022. After the Afghanistan evacuation humiliation, the military-previously highly trusted-took a big hit. Only 5% of the people trust the newspapers “a great deal” and just 2% trust Congress, 19% trust the police, 15% trust the medical system, 11% trust big tech and so on. There is little trust throughout American society at large.
And why should there be? All these institutions have had a bad year. The police are doing well to hold 19% after the Uvalde massacre where they stood by and did nothing while children were murdered in a school. The only institution showing some gumption is the Supreme Court which stood its ground versus the bullies after Roe vs Wade was overturned despite death threats and one clear assassination against sitting Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
The way you can earn trust is to tell people the truth, do the things you promise to do and admit when you’re wrong and do better next time. Lying to people, breaking promises and redefining terms to escape accountability may seem slick to political operatives, but this behavior gets noticed especially when it is so blatantly repetitive.
Can our nation flourish when most people think it’s basically a big organized crime operation? I doubt it very much. But who will make our leaders do better?