The remarkable collapse of our trust in government

Published 12:31 am Saturday, January 24, 2015

By Congressman Randy Forbes

Do you trust the federal government?

An overwhelming majority of America doesn’t. That widely accepted belief hasn’t always been the case. In fact, throughout our nation’s history, Americans have generally trusted government all the time or most of the time, according to historical research from Pew Research Center. Americans — for the most part — generally thought the government was there to create positive outcomes for our nation.

Until a certain point.

Last month, The Washington Post featured an article with a Pew chart showing “trust” trend lines. They called it “The remarkable collapse of our trust in government in one chart.” And the change is remarkable. It can be pinned to a certain period in our American history; beginning in the late 1960s, trust in government plummeted. Since that point, trust has continued to decline.

Today, the general public’s level of trust in government is near its lowest levels on record. An overwhelming 79 percent said they trusted government only “some” of the time or “never.”

The Washington Post noted that the change began around the time of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal. It’s true, Vietnam and Watergate were tumultuous times for our nation — Americans felt they lacked accurate information, thousands of American lives were lost, and people wondered to what end politicians in Washington would go to achieve their personal and political goals. Certainly, these events were major contributors to Americans’ lack of faith in government.

But there is something else curious about the Pew chart. When you overlay a graph of our gross public debt, the trend lines are similar. Government spending skyrockets. Trust in government plummets.

I wonder the degree to which the two are related — perhaps this is the real truth behind the remarkable collapse in our trust in government.

Across Washington, we have heard some leaders calling for more, bigger government. They believe government intervention is the answer to fixing most anything ailing our country and our citizens. Government already intrudes into almost every aspect of our daily lives — from our healthcare, to the taxes that we pay on almost everything we touch. Government regulations are stifling our businesses, limiting creativity and innovation, and restricting economic growth. Just ask a small business owner. Just ask a teacher. Just ask a farmer.

In a financial sense, excessive government has caused federal spending to skyrocket. Every year, our federal government spends billions of dollars on duplicative, underutilized, and wasteful programs. Our bloated federal debt brought us to sequestration. It’s caused us to mortgage our children’s future to pay for yesterday’s expenses. In an administrative sense, federal agencies are mismanaged. Whether it is spending on lavish conferences, first-class flights, excessive bonus payments, or special projects agencies decide to fund, taxpayers are weary of the government misusing their hard-earned dollars. A 2014 Gallup poll indicates that the American taxpayer believes federal government wastes 51 cents of every hard earned dollar they pay in taxes.

In my view, it’s no coincidence that when the federal government grew exponentially — not just in spending, but also in scope — Americans started to doubt their faith in our government.

If we are going to allow ourselves to be mothered by the federal government, shouldn’t we believe that mother knows best? And for that matter, shouldn’t we believe that government has our best interests at heart?

We are individuals and we all have competing interests. It’s hardly possible for government to have every individual’s best interests at heart. Our Founding Fathers created the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States to provide rules for governing our nation. They were created to protect the people’s rights — not to protect the people from themselves.

We must grapple with the ever increasing size, scope and spending of government. We must restore faith in government by restoring the proper function of government. We must work to ensure a better future for our children and grandchildren, and rebuild confidence that the American dream is still achievable. Government will never be the one to solve our problem. If we are to restore trust in government, we need to give power back where it belongs — with the people.

RANDY FORBES represents Virginia’s Fourth Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives. For contact information, see