Why do we distrust government at all levels?
How’d we get here? How did we arrive at a place where distrust of our government and our leaders keeps growing? Even the news media is experiencing a positive trend while our opinions of elected officials and their work head further south.
Back in January, Reuters/Ipsos pollsters tracking confidence in major institutions found 52 percent of Americans had at least some confidence in Donald Trump’s executive branch. That fell to 48 percent in the latest polling and the biggest shift may surprise partisans among you. Confidence among Republicans fell 6 points compared to a 3-point drop among Democrats.
In that same polling, done every couple of months, opinions of the news media went in the opposite direction. Positive opinions of the press rose to 48 percent in the latest survey, up from 39 percemt last January.
Declining trust in our leaders and governing institutions is nothing new. A quick look at recent events may tell us why.
At a national level, the focus for the past nine months on the part of the executive and legislative branches has been on the partisan deadlock over Obamacare. What should be a discussion of improving health care has instead devolved into arguments over who pays for health insurance. Lawmakers and the administration fiddle with repeated failed attempts to “repeal and replace” while providers and their patients burn.
Public lands battles offer another example. An administration that claims lack of local input as grounds for its attacks on recently proclaimed national monuments and for reversing regulations regarding sage-grouse, methane emissions and fracking is, at the same time, disbanding BLM Resource Advisory Councils (RACs) designed to provide that very advice. Does that inspire confidence?
Our elected leaders somehow take in stride mass shootings such as the ones in Las Vegas and Orlando that left more than 100 dead and hundreds more wounded. After the latest tragedy, even the National Rifle Association and some of its legislative acolytes dipped a tentative toe in the water regarding bump stocks, although the NRA later walked back and now supports a “review” rather than regulation of that little-known and lightly used accessory which creates a de-facto automatic weapon. The rest of us know history will repeat itself, that any real progress toward gun safety legislation or improved mental health treatment will wither on the vine, only to be briefly discussed again when the next tragedy occurs.
We see other causes of our distrust closer to home.
Hurt feelings over not being consulted about calling a special legislative session left transportation districts and other smaller entities without millions of dollars in revenues due to oversights in a marijuana tax bill passed during the last session. Bills being drafted by several Republican lawmakers to fix the problem were pulled and GOP senators killed other solutions proposed by Democrats. Apparently it was, according to GOP lawmakers, “an unfortunate waste of time” to be asked to fix their own mistake. Instead, they joined in a chorus of petulant “no” votes.
The Grand Junction City Council’s recent decision to offer loans of up to $10,000 per project to expand broadband service in the city may seem, on the surface, to be progress. Compared to surrounding Western Slope areas, it’s a drop in the bucket. Western Slope communities from Cortez to Steamboat Springs are well ahead of us.
“Middle mile” fiber optic connections were turned on earlier this year in Montrose and Delta counties and there’s some irony in the fact that project was coordinated by Grand Junction City Council member Chris Kennedy. His own council declined in a split vote in March to continue negotiations on a proposal to provide communitywide fiber optic service in Grand Junction despite earlier constituent support for providing that level of service. A month later, city voters overwhelmingly rejected an events center proposal advanced with little public vetting before it was placed on the ballot.
A Twitter-happy president is only the latest symptom. Partisanship, petulance, ignoring the wishes of constituents, refusing to deal with root causes of tragedy, haste to overturn any initiatives of a previous administration … all are contributing to distrust of government at every level.
“With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed.”
— Abraham Lincoln