It seems that in America today there is not much that we can agree on. We are divided by political party, by race, and by religion. Yet a glace at recent polling reveals that Americans agree almost universally on at least one thing – the government is not worthy of trust.
When Pew Research Center first began studying public trust in government in 1958, almost 75% of Americans trusted the federal government to do the right thing “almost always” or “most of the time.” Now, only 19% of Americans give that same answer today. In fact, only 3% – 3%! of Americans trust the government to do the right thing “just about always.” That’s a staggering drop in just over a half century.
What drove this drastic change? Why do Americans distrust their government so much? I would argue that we saw two excellent examples this past week. When a leading Presidential candidate breaks the law and gets away with it simply because she has a famous last name, it is no wonder that average citizens believe the system is rigged against them. And when a black man gets shot to death during a routine traffic stop even though he appeared to be cooperating, it is no wonder that other young black men believe law enforcement officers are biased against them.
Growing up as a conservative, one of the main principles I was taught is basic distrust in government. I firmly believe that government is not the answer to our problems, and that the larger the government grows, the more corrupt, inefficient, and oppressive it becomes. With all that being said, Americans still deserve to have honest, open government. Something is wrong with our government when dozens of elected officials are indicted or convicted every single year.
Thankfully, there are a few people who are trying to change that. Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska – he of #NeverTrump fame – took to the floor of the US Senate last week to deliver a blistering speech on corruption, integrity, and the Clinton email scandal. He opened by recounting the outcome of the FBI investigation into Hillary’s emails, but then pivoted to make a larger point.
“The debate about why the crimes are not being prosecuted in this case should not blind us to a broader debasing problem in our civic life today. Simply put: lying matters. Public trust matters. Integrity matters. And woe to us as a nation if we decide to pretend that this isn’t so.
This issue is not about political points or about presidential politics. It is about whether the people can trust their representatives – those of us who are supposed to be serving them in government.”
Simply put, Sasse nails it. Hillary escaping prosecution is only a symptom of the larger problem we face. For the most part, our elected officials have no understanding of the concepts of trust, integrity, and character. And as Sasse goes on to note, “This is a serious matter that deserves our serious attention.”
Sasse is right. When the people overwhelmingly believe their government is corrupt, rigged, and dishonest, it leads to so many other problems. As Jefferson put it, “When the people fear the government there is tyranny.”
From Capitol Hill to City Hall, our public servants must rededicate themselves to upholding and restoring the public trust. Yet we as ordinary Americans must at the same time rededicate ourselves to living out these principles of honor and integrity, and holding our government officials accountable when they do not.
James Garfield had it right:
“Now more than ever before, the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness and corruption. If it be intelligent, brave and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature.”
How did Hillary Clinton get away with breaking the law, you ask? Mainly because average Americans don’t care enough about the issue to hold anyone accountable. Sure, Republicans politicians and pundits alike will bemoan the decision, but most Americans could care less about politics. In fact, according to ABC News/Washington Post polling, 56% of Americans disapprove of the FBI’s decision not to recommend charges, yet 58% of Americans say the email scandal will “make no difference” in the way they vote. Right there is the problem. We complain that our leaders are corrupt, yet we refuse to hold them accountable. As a nation, we have become apathetic and indifferent. Most Americans can’t even be bothered to take 15 minutes to vote once or twice a year, let alone make their voice heard in any other way. This is a crying shame.
Our Founders gave us a Republic, purchased with the blood, sweat, and tears of thousands of patriots. Hundreds of thousands of men and women have given their lives to defend and maintain that Republic over the years. Are we so lazy that we cannot keep it? I pray not. We owe it to our fallen heroes to maintain the freedoms that they died to preserve. If we come together with a new resolve, we can restore honor to our government and bring about a more perfect union, with liberty and justice for all.