Why We No Longer Trust Our Government

Tennessee Law Professor Glen Reynolds recently wrote an article attempting to answer the question of why Americans are losing confidence in their government and even fearing it as a threat to their freedom.  A recent Pew Poll noted that more than half of Americans view the government as a threat to their freedom!

Professor Reynolds gave an obvious answer, “Well, perhaps it's because government actually has become a bigger threat to freedom. There's plenty of support for that notion, given that we're seeing everything from TSA scanners, to widespread surveillance, to drone strikes on American citizens. Add to that the creepy sound of 'Homeland Security,'and now talk of gun control or even gun confiscation, and it's easy to see why lots of people, with lots of different political views, might come to see the government as a threat.” Somehow I would suspect the political class wouldn’t view it that way or even understand they are the reason that their fellow countrymen fear their government. New York Times Blogger and number cruncher, Nate Silver found a relationship between data on the distrust on government and increasing government spending on welfare and other social programs. Silver observed, "The declining level of trust in government since the 1970s is a fairly close mirror for the growth in spending on social insurance as a share of the gross domestic product and of overall government expenditures. We may have gone from conceiving of government as an entity that builds roads, dams and airports, provides shared services like schooling, policing and national parks, and wages wars, into the world's largest insurance broker. Most of us don't much care for our insurance broker."

Silver's point is that when the government strayed away from what many use to view as their legitimate role and added more responsibility, the government became less effective. Reynolds observed that bigger government often pulls in different directions and adds to the confusion. One example that Reynolds gave was how government subsidized cheese while lecturing us to eat less fat and as he concluded: “The bigger the government, the more likely we are to see these kinds of problems.”

When government limits itself to a few things that are needed for the common good, it will do those things well. And a government that does things well will be trusted and admired. Consider the military, the one branch that has respect among much of the American people for a simple reason, it does what it supposed to do well. The United States Military is the best in the world, and while one can argue how they were used in the Middle East, you can’t argue that they haven’t fought well and with courage. However, that can’t be said about the rest of government, but as Reynolds noted, “The problem, of course, is that a government that does a lot of things badly is more appealing to the political class: more opportunity for graft, and for exercising the inflated self-importance that probably drives politicians even more than graft. The question is whether the government exists for the country's benefit, or for the benefit of the political class.”

Reynolds concluded, the political class loves a bigger government because they profit from it. They can exercise power and their allies, the crony capitalists, add to their riches while the average American's standard of living declines and many more are trapped in a dependency state. As government has grown, it has become more of a threat. The fight over gun rights is one example, for many gun owners don’t just fear that the political class wants to confiscate their guns, they know that is much of the political class' goal. So as I wrote in a previous column, what do we do when your own government is paranoid about us? The answer is as government keeps growing, it will begin to threaten basic rights. And as the political class that rules over us becomes paranoid, trust between government and the people will continue to widen. The size of government is the principal reason that Americans not only don’t trust their government, they are beginning to fear it.

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