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What – no trust in government?

Michael Tomlin

Michael Tomlin

A recent Pew Research Center poll indicated there is little trust in government solving our problems. Not since the shocking news that college students have more sex in coed dorms has such data rocked our sensibilities.

According to the Pew Poll, over 76 percent us of indicate that government cannot fix our nation’s ills. An alternative finding with the same data might be “Americans still place individual responsibility above government action.”

The problem in a nation of self-government is that we place an untenable burden on our government and then do not support it with our actions. Conservatives want government to stay out of our lives – until something goes on the blink and then we expect Congress, the president, or our governor to respond like day traders and employ instant strategies to fix it.

Liberals on the other hand are more honest in that they desire big government and fully believe “It” will make an Aristotelian right decision a la the “Golden Mean,” more often than not – unless of course it is swayed from its goodness by people who are less so, or in common terms, normal.

This tension is probably expected and “right” for self-governing nations; we just have few to compare ourselves to over history. So we ask our opinions and make headlines over the findings. Better we would be if we assumed the imperfections of life, the frailties of perfection in any government, and took more individual responsibility.

We cannot simultaneously expect the government to clean our teeth or check our blood pressure and do so at a low market cost, with a provider we choose, at a time and location convenient to us. Those dots can only be connected through compromise, and are compromises that I am not interested in making.

But we can expect government to oversee banking, and to protect our shores, and I trust it to do so. Yes, current banking scandals chip away at the trust, especially with some members of Congress involved, but this is nothing new. President Andrew Jackson worked tirelessly to do away with the National Bank before all members of Congress were tainted.

As long as mortals run governments they will do so fallibly, whether it be the government of the Catholic Church, or Venezuela, or the blue-blooded royalty of kingdoms. But as a people of self-government we can be above all of those with our daily self-governing.

Before I even ask if my neighbor trusts government, I should demonstrate that he can trust me, by my only asking for a mortgage I can afford, by paying back my college loans, by not folding and declaring bankruptcy at the first tough go. A question about government in this country is a question about “We the People,” and it is a shame we do not trust us.

About Michael Tomlin


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  2. My neighbors give me reasons to trust them all the time. They clean up their doggy doo, mow their yards, keep quiet at night, and so forth. On the other hand government has done little to inspire trust. Do we have fewer people living below the poverty level? Are there fewer drugs on our streets and in schools? Are our kids better educated? Are our borders secure? Is our financial foundation strong or weak? Is the food supply more healthy? Are our citizens healthier on the whole? Let’s not confuse intention with results.

  3. Nice article, Michael. I thought it was going to be another government bashing piece (so fashionable today) and was pleasantly surprised by your even handedness.

    It’s too easy to be cynical and to forget that our government often does things quite well. Much of the modern world we marvel at today was spawned in government labs or through government initiatives in the areas of defense, health, space and more.

    During the past two years, our government took BIG and drastic measures to avoid a world economic meltdown and another great depression. Today, the world and US economies are recovering and we are making regulatory and policy changes based on lessons learned. Sure, there are messes to clean up, such as the deficit. But complaining about the deficit after what we’ve been through is like the guy who couldn’t breath complaining about the damage to his neckline from the tracheotomy that saved his life. How soon we forget….

  4. This column takes the phrase \all politics are local\ and literally drives it \home.\ Nice piece, Michael!