Willson: Why It’s Okay to Trust the Government Again

In recent decades, civilian trust of the U.S. government has been deteriorating. Widespread decline in federal faith over the years can be attributed to a number of factors, but today, lack of belief in our administration is strongly linked to skepticism over Trump’s capability of holding the presidential seat. However, the rejection of Trump’s so-called “Travel Ban” by the Court of Appeals suggests federal recognition of American dissatisfaction and hints at an effort to better represent the public’s wishes. Although it may seem inconceivable now, the recent move by the Court of Appeals will boost confidence in our administrative officials’ competence and ultimately increase trust of government.

According to the Pew Research Center, American trust in government began to wane significantly half a century ago, around the time of the Vietnam War. The horrific Asian conflict transpired along with a series of trust-eroding events, from Nixon’s Watergate scandal to the economic “stagflation” of the late ‘70s. As Americans began to doubt government’s ability to maintain economic prosperity, peace, and national security, their faith in the federal system fell accordingly.

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Granted, there have been instances in which public opinion was more optimistic. For example, a fiscal uptick in the late 1990s resulted in greater approval ratings for government. Likewise, confidence in the United States system grew following the September 11th attacks, when federal officials demonstrated political prowess in the midst of terrorism and tragedy. But it seems that we Americans are difficult to please for long; ratings fell sharply when President George W. Bush mired the nation in Iraq, and again during the fiscal crisis of 2008.

The point is, the general populace’s conviction that government can and will do the right thing is feebler than it is strong. With media outlets constantly publicizing every political scandal and slip-up, it’s no wonder we are so inclined to criticize and doubt elected officials. Trump is no exception, having committed enough faux pas to inspire eight seasons of Saturday Night Live. Just recently, Trump shared a phone call with French president François Hollande. A senior official who had knowledge of the call reported that the American politico spent a great portion of the conversation going off topic and ranting about personal preoccupations, such as his belief that the United States is being exploited by other countries and organizations like NATO. As the president continues making long-distance calls to foreign officials, one should hope he learns to maintain a more professional demeanor.

It’s not implausible to assume that trust in government will continue to decline in the early months of Trump’s term, as the president has shown borderline draconian fervor in policymaking. Despite being in office for less than 30 days, the new president has already made significant alterations to the fabric woven by the Obama administration. Since his inauguration, Trump has signed 25 executive actions, including 11 executive orders. Such dicta are typically put forth as a means of directing the executive branch to follow new guidelines or policies. One order, for instance, instructed the secretary of the Treasury to reassess the 2010 Dodd-Frank bill, a law passed by Obama and Congress in response to the financial crisis of 2008. The bill aimed to enforce greater financial regulations on Wall Street and lessen risk for consumers. As Trump’s order loosens these regulations, critics argue that he is putting consumers’ financial welfare in jeopardy once again.

Perhaps more significant is the issuing of Trump’s notorious travel ban, an order that barred entry of immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim-majority nations. The executive order elicited sharp criticism from both Democratic and Republican congress members, as well as from numerous organizations, businesses, and churches. Across the nation, thousands of individuals formed protests (primarily in airports) to decry the ban, which they deemed unnecessary, islamophobic, and anti-American. Opposition was so vehement that the state of Washington filed a lawsuit against the government as means of challenging the ban. On February 7th, a panel of judges on the federal appeals court held a session to hear arguments from attorneys for both the plaintiff (State of Washington) and the defendant (Trump Administration).

Following the questioning, the judges unanimously rejected Trump’s ban on the grounds that refusing to implement the policy would not be injurious or endangering to the country. The judges also argued that there was too little reason to support the enactment of Trump’s order, writing in their decision, “The Government has pointed to no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the Order has perpetrated a terrorist attack in the United States.” The decision of the appeals court is not only a win for the state of Washington and those affected by the ban, but the rest of the nation as well. Ruling in favor of the states demonstrates that the opinion of the people has been heard loud and clear by officials, and this is why we can begin to trust our government.

When our constitution was written, the founding fathers decreed that a system of checks and balances be enforced to prevent excessive control by any one branch of the government. Proper distribution of power in government is an excellent way to establish and preserve trust in the population, for it ensures that no one individual can obtain too much authority. In the case of Trump’s travel ban, the judiciary branch “checked” the authority of the executive, and did so for very good reasons. Not only is Trump’s ban unnecessary and unsubstantiated, but it discriminates against the very kind of people who comprise our melting pot of a nation: immigrants, refugees, and minorities. Enforcing the ban would be directly opposed to American ideology, and the general populace was capable of recognizing this, even if Trump was not. Citizens retaliated with peaceful protests and verbal condemnation of the order and their actions proved effective, as the court of appeals ultimately ruled in favor of the majority opinion. Trump may not have the acumen to pick up on the desires of the American people, but fortunately, other federal employees seem able to do so.

As ironic as it may sound, I believe that this presidential term will actually produce an increase in Americans’ trust of government. Their faith will most likely not be in Trump—who has already proven himself rather rash and self-absorbed—but in the administrative officials who work tirelessly to keep him in order. The United States is still one of the healthiest, most robust nations in the world, but this classification hinges largely on a collective optimistic outlook; we must appreciate all the great things our government does and can do for us, and make sure to take advantage of every opportunity we are given. Regardless of whether or not Trump will be a competent commander-in-chief, we should not look to his upcoming term with pessimism, but instead with an air of hope. Rather than fear the future and succumb to the darkness of distrust, we should maintain faith that government can enact positive change. By continuing to fight for what we believe in—as we did with the travel ban—pressure will be placed upon authority figures to exact change. With the recent court decision fresh in mind, I honestly believe that our democracy can improve life for every American citizen, regardless of who holds the Oval Office.