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The Public Doesn’t Trust Government, But Still Want More Of It

Public trust has waned since the Eisenhower presidency, and sits at near historic lows. Yet, Americans still want more of it. Whether it is a perceived slow response by the Trump administration or believing COVID-19 testing responsibility falls on the federal government, many people just want more.

Not only is public trust in government historically low. According to PEW, 65% of Americans believe Donald Trump was too slow “to take major steps to address the threat of the coronavirus outbreak to the U.S.” The same poll shows that 66% have a great concern that state governments will get out of their way too quickly in the form of lifting restrictions on public activity too soon.

61 percent of US adults believe it is the federal government’s responsibility to assure there is adequate testing capacity, while 37 percent believe the responsibility falls on state governments to make sure there are enough tests to lift lockdown restrictions. 

“When the government responds in a crisis like this and rolls out specific policies that help people … they’re not taken for granted,” said Suzanne Mettler, a political scientist at Cornell University. “And when the government’s role in [those policies] is really visible, that really helps with people’s sense that the government is being responsive to people like them.”

Lawrence W. Reed, President Emeritus and Humphreys Family Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Economic Education, sees the irony. “At a time when the performance of government in managing its own affairs and governing others is awful, public support for more government is high,” said Reed. “Public opinion is strongly critical of the government at the same time the public elects politicians who promise more of it.” It runs massive budget deficits even when the economy is strong, yet many people still want more, he notes.

“The major parties lie routinely, promise one thing and deliver another, and resort to the vilest of tactics to score points over each other,” he said. “If performance mattered, nobody would trust it with the keys to its own car but about half the country thinks the government still isn’t big enough.” 

Reed believes the nation’s foundational documents are more important than ever. But I lament the fact that millions of Americans don’t seem to care about these things as their forefathers did,” he said. “More than a century of government schooling has sucked the spirit of liberty from our souls and deprived us even of the knowledge of why it’s so precious and rare in the first place.” 

Those founding documents have not failed us, he said. “Rather, we have failed them. They are collecting dust, awaiting a day—hopefully soon—when we will rediscover their eternal value and the genius that went into them. Meantime, we allow our public officials and university elites to shred them every day.”

Recent events have only reinforced Reed’s long standing view that no human motivation is more toxic than the lust for power. “It’s as old as sin and ultimately more deadly than any virus,” he said. “Even a person with good intentions will almost always turn rotten when given power over others.”

To fend off corruption by those in power, people must learn more about liberty. “They should know how exceedingly rare it is, that most people who have ever lived did not have it,” he said. “They were slaves or serfs or subjects of regimes they feared would snuff them out at the drop of a hat. People today should know that it’s a delicate thing and in a world full of people eager to grab power, it can be lost just as easily. When it goes, it may not appear again for generations. People should also know that liberty is inextricably linked to personal character. No people who ever lost their character kept their liberties.” 

In his new book, Was Jesus a Socialist? Reed addresses something he is very concerned about and wishes alarmed more people.”The growing number of people who think socialism is the answer to their problems and who think that Jesus himself thought so,” he said. “It’s theological and historical absurdity writ large yet its subtle introduction to religious discussion is poisoning the culture.”

The more activist and ideological of the “Jesus was a socialist” crowd will use any emergency as an opportunity to advance their socialist agenda, including a pandemic, Reed warns. While admitting its anecdotal, and may be partly due to it being a very political election year, Reed has noticed a spike in use of this myth in recent months. 

“It’s all the more ironic—and dangerously stupid—that some are saying the virus crisis proves we need full-blown socialism at the very same time governments are stuffing COVID-19 patients into nursing homes and issuing nonsensical and contradictory lockdown orders that are now producing more deaths than those caused by the virus,” Reed said. “Arguing that Jesus would ever stoop to endorse such tyrannical nonsense is ludicrous but then, so is socialism.”

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