The Pew Research Center has released a poll on trust in government, finding, to no one's surprise, that there is precious little of it.
For the remainder of April, NPR programs on air and online will explore the implications of this poll, and the root causes of the growing distrust of American government among Americans.
Why is the government so distrusted at this moment? What does that mean for government's ability and willingness to tackle big problems, or to enforce the solutions it devises? Is skepticism about the efficacy of government in some ways a self-fulfilling prophecy?
Some of the stories to be told by NPR reporters in the coming days concern specific issues -- the deficit, the wars, the new health care law -- that disturb many Americans and make them wonder whether Washington understands their strongly held views.
Others concern the psychological roots of the suspicion with which Americans have often regarded authority. We are in a real sense a nation of rebels, skeptics and resisters. What changes from one era to the next is not the underlying attitude or national character; it is rather the mix of policies and preachments we are pushing back against.
Change Of Direction In Obama Era
Right now, the American polity is responding to a wrenching change of direction personified by President Obama. The previous three decades had been dominated by a public philosophy embodied by President Reagan. Through this period of deconstruction, under Republican administrations and Democratic as well, the primary thrust of government change was toward deregulation and decentralization.
The era of President Clinton seemed to interrupt this general flow of events, but after two years of attempting major changes to the system (especially on gun control, trade deals, greater government involvement in health care and gays in the military), Clinton stepped back and played defense against a newly Republican Congress. He did so throughout the rest of his presidency, and he was followed in office by George W. Bush, who openly espoused a return to Reaganism.
Dissatisfaction With National Institutions