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In Government We Trust?

SRINIVAS BALAGOPAL

COPY & WEB EDITOR

 

  According to the Pew Research Center, only 18 percent of the public trusts the government. That’s at a historic low, given that in 1958, almost 75 percent of Americans trusted the government to do the “right thing.” Before we blame our current President for this loss of public trust, consider that faith has been eroding since the 1960s. Whether it was Watergate, WMDs, or government surveillance, trust has been on a downward trend. But is it actually these crises that challenge our faith in government, or do they add to the broader narrative?

The wealth gap between the richest and poorest Americans is now at the same levels as it was in the 1920s. Jean M. Twenge of San Diego State University and University of Georgia researchers W. Keith Campbell and Nathan Carter found that as income inequality and poverty rose, public trust declined.

“With the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, people trust each other less,” says Twenge. “There’s a growing perception that other people are cheating or taking advantage to get ahead.” More Americans believe that the government is rolling out policies that benefit the rich and powerful.

  Following Citizens United v. FEC, corporations and unions are able to make unlimited independent contributions to candidates and issues in the form of Political Action Committees. In the 2016 election cycle, 2,400 super-PACs spent almost $1.1 billion. Furthermore, pharmaceutical companies, through their trade group, made contributions of almost $5 million to Senator Orrin Hatch’s 2011 re-election campaign, at the time when the senator sat on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and was the ranking GOP member on the powerful Senate Finance Committee.

  Joseph Pulitzer once observed that “our republic and its press will rise or fall together.” Before the advent of the 24-hour cable news, journalists and editors had the time and the responsibility of fact checking their stories, and the public had the time to read, analyze, and assimilate the news events.

But now, the rapidity of the news cycle has compressed our ability to have constructive national discourse about issues because they fade away from our consciousness as the news cycle moves to the

next topic.

  Americans have always had a deep-seated skepticism of government, given that our nation was born in an act of rebellion. We have always pivoted between being the “shining city upon a hill,” and realizing that the nine most frightening words in the English language were “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” But as inequality grows, as well as the perception that the government exists to serve the rich and powerful, fed by the partisan and vitriolic news cycle, can anyone really wonder  why we and the government are at such a low point in public trust? More importantly, can we regain that trust?

 

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