When did we stop trusting in our government? The government isn’t some distant, unknown group. It’s “us, you and I” as Teddy Roosevelt once said. But we certainly don’t feel like it. Public trust in government is lower than it has been in years, with roughly 1 out of 4 Americans saying they trust the government, according to Pew Research.
This lack of trust exists, despite the work done in the past by the government to make our lives better. The government built our highways and roads, makes sure our drinking water is clean, cured diseases with medical research, explored our solar system, and even created the internet. Yes, the internet — it started as a military project in the Defense Department before being made open and available to the public.
And our lack of trust exists despite the fact that we are faced with the good work of our government nearly every day. The government is our public schools, educators and teachers who take care of the next generation of leaders. The government is the military that keeps us safe, the police officers and firefighters who guard our communities, and the prosecutors and judges who uphold the law. These are our friends, our neighbors and all of them are hired or appointed by the officials we choose during elections.
That’s why at its most basic level, we are the government. You, and me. If we disagree with decisions our elected officials make, we can fire them. And we can hire the people we agree with about the direction they want to take our country.
How have we forgotten this most basic civics lesson?
We didn’t always disparage our government. During his first State of the Union address, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower referred to the government dozens of times, in a positive way. In the decades that followed, conservatives decided to wage a campaign against the government, in an effort to privatize our tax dollars to fatten corporate profits. Programs such as Social Security and Medicare were decried as socialist takeovers. By the 1980s, Ronald Reagan famously slandered government by claiming to be terrified at the utterance of the phrase “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” Reagan spent his time in office undercutting the ability of every government agency to do its job, through decreased funding and eliminating the enforcement mechanisms that allowed them to be effective.
During the past several decades, conservative leaders and candidates have built an industry focused on getting us to lose faith in our government, and each other. They campaign on the idea that the government just can’t do anything right. Then when elected, they work every day to make sure they prove their point.
During the last eight years, it has only worsened. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., wanted to be majority leader, not to pass groundbreaking new policy, but to try and make President Barack Obama a “one-term president.” Sen. Chuck Grassley is blocking a Supreme Court nominee from even receiving a hearing, which is unprecedented obstruction of government. These recent government shutdowns and political gamesmanship would have been unthinkable in the past. But now they are commonplace, with disastrous consequences for our economy and access to justice.
None of this should suggest that the government can — or should — do everything for our society. But our government must be supported and effective in order for our country to reach its full potential. There are too many needs that the free market wouldn’t otherwise provide for. We have seen some progress made in access to health care thanks to the Affordable Care Act, which is growing more popular each year. And even more recent pushes to increase the minimum wage, ensure college affordability and student debt relief, that women earn equal pay for equal work, and that workers receive paid sick days as well as family leave, all of those ideas, among others, are opportunities for the government to make our lives just a little bit better, if we can trust in our ability to accomplish them together.
We can continue to denigrate ourselves and our potential, or we can understand that we’re much stronger when we work together. On the day when we celebrate our joining together as a nation, what could be more patriotic than beginning to trust our government, and each other, to solve our collective problems and improve the lives of our families?
MATT SINOVIC is the executive director of Progress Iowa. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Save the date: Progress Iowa Corn Feed!
Join us for Iowa sweet corn and a discussion about progressive ideas!
SPEAKERS: Congressman Dave Loebsack, Iowa Senate President Pam Jochum, Iowa House Minority Leader Mark Smith, Candidate for U.S. Senate Patty Judge, Candidates for Congress Jim Mowrer, Monica Vernon, and Kim Weaver (along with more to be announced soon!).
WHEN/WHERE: Sunday, August 28; Doors Open at 2:00 PM
Simon Estes Amphitheater, 75 E Locust St, Des Moines, Iowa