Americans don't trust the government because it's failing

There is a lot of concern in Washington about the low level of trust in government. Pew Research found last May only 18% of Americans had even a sliver of faith in the federal government, something which shouldn’t be surprising since it’s been hovering in the 20’s since 2006. Pew seemed relatively surprised at the downward trend since 75% of Americans trusted government in the 1950’s. The low faith in those in DC caused Washington state Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers to write at National Review the federal government has to fix its trustworthiness, or face even more consequences.

Why is trust in government nearly at an all-time low? It’s because the hardworking men and women of this country look at Washington, D.C., and see story after story of corruption, lack of transparency, and mismanagement. From senior FBI agent Peter Strzok’s onetime involvement with an opaque investigation of the president of the United States, to Lois Lerner’s Internal Revenue Service that targeted conservative organizations, to politicians from both parties who have abused public trust by engaging in sexual harassment.

What do all these cases have in common? It’s officials who have lost sight of their mission to serve We, the People.

The House Republican Committee chair spent most of her time focusing on the issues within the VA system, heaping abuse on the bureaucracy within the system which caused the death of veterans. She castigated administrators for a lack of opaqueness and its inability to promote change within the system. The anger is well-deserved because the VA has failed, and the free market should be used to help those in need. The system should be shut down over a gradual time period, giving doctors and patients who like the care they receive the time to find alternatives. It would also give private entities the time to set up said alternatives, promote them, and get vets the help they need.

McMorris Rodgers still believes government is the solution to some problems, and is hopeful Congress will help, “rebuild trust in our democracy.” But she makes a fatal error in comparing the government to private industry.

If only 3 percent of Americans said they trusted a pilot to land a plane, would you board the flight? If only 3 percent of Americans said they trusted a doctor to write the correct prescription, would you take the pill? What about if only 3 percent of Americans trusted a business to keep their credit-card information secure? Would you make a purchase from their website?

In all these cases, of course not.

Here’s the problem. When private industries fail, individuals are able to find alternatives relatively easy. Government alternatives exist via the private sector, but the government is loathe to surrender power. People are constantly told to trust the government, like when former president Barack Obama told Ohio State grads in 2013 they should ignore the voices of people who, “incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems; some of these same voices also doing their best to gum up the works.” President Donald Trump wants us to trust his government to get things right, even if he’s repeating Obama’s foreign policy mistakes and wants to do tariffs. The same goes for the Republican Congress, who re-authorized #FISA702 despite obvious flaws.

The system is failing, but it isn’t known what solution will be picked as the answer. Reason’s Ronald Bailey is worried Americans will pick an even more powerful government to solve the ills of society. Via The Orange County Register:

This is particularly troubling for those who believe in freedom and smaller government. People who have the misfortune to live in low-trust societies tend, paradoxically, to want more, not less government. A recent report notes that “it turns out that government may be growing not in spite of our lack of confidence in it, but because of our lack of confidence in it. This self-defeating spiral will only get worse if the United States fails to stem its slide toward being a low-trust country.”

Bailey makes an extremely good point. Americans didn’t trust the authoritarian Obama (or the authoritarian Hillary Clinton), so they elected Trump, instead of less authoritarian candidates. Bernie Sanders’ democratic socialism appears popular with younger voters, and he’s as authoritarian as Trump. People see the failures of the FBI and other law enforcement entities (The Broward County Sheriff’s Office), and want to give more power to government in hopes of keeping them safe, instead of less power. Incumbents get re-elected all the time, despite criticism of their policy and votes on FISA or Obamacare or the farm bill or new regulations on financial institutions. Local and state governments want people to trust them, despite obvious cronyism issue.

So is there a way to prevent Americans from picking more powerful government? Education is certainly one thing, but actual examples are just as important. A civilian helped stop the Sutherland Springs attack last November. Locals got together to help people after Hurricane Harvey. There are churches and non-profits doing what they can to fight poverty without government assistance. These are the examples which need to be used for anyone looking to explain why the private sector is better than any governmental entity at reducing problems.

Here’s another reason why private entities are better than any kind of government bureaucracy: accountability. McMorris Rodgers cited major issues within the VA, including the fact bureaucrats are hesitant to embrace reform. This is because the cash spigot hasn’t been turned off. There are countless stories of businesses failing because they didn’t embrace change. There are other stories of businesses thriving because they embraced innovation, and worked hard to regain the public’s trust after scandal or poor customer service. How many people changed banks after Bank of America was raked over the coals for changes to their fee system? Cabela’s stopped selling bump stocks after the Las Vegas attack. Does anyone expect the government to make legitimate changes following their failures?

There’s a great line from Captain America: Civil War which sums up my thinking. “My faith is in people, I guess. Individuals.” The titular hero tells Iron Man. “And I’m happy to say for the most part, they haven’t let me down.” People will fail. Government institutions will fail. But which do you trust more to make changes? For me, it’s individuals because the government has no real inclination to change its ways.