Less than one year into his tenure, Joe Biden has already demonstrated a masterful reverse-Midas touch by driving public trust in government to unprecedented lows.
That creates a calamitous paradox for a man whose entire tax-and-spend agenda depends upon boosting government trust, not eradicating it.
Conversely, that dynamic also offers an opportunity for conservatives and libertarians, if they can illuminate the following cognitive connection: Government trustworthiness and performance necessarily decline in direct proportion to its enlargement and centralization.
Let’s begin with foreign affairs, since that lies within the federal government’s exclusive ambit and therefore offers a telling barometer of Joe Biden’s failures as president.
According to Gallup, trust in government to handle international problems has fallen to a record low of 39%, a nine-point decline since one year ago under President Trump. In the wake of Biden’s disastrous and humiliating Afghanistan withdrawal, groveling to China, desperation to placate Iran and empowerment of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, perhaps that shouldn’t surprise anyone. So much for Biden’s boastful “America is Back” sloganeering upon entering office.
The picture looks just as bleak when it comes to domestic issues. The same 39% express a “great deal” or even “fair amount” of trust in the federal government when it comes to handling domestic problems. That’s also down from just one year ago, when the supposedly inept Donald Trump still held office.
Perhaps never in American history has a sense of electoral buyer’s remorse set in so quickly and so profoundly.
In contrast, Americans express far greater trust in state and local government.
In the same survey, Gallup asked “How much trust do you have in state and local government where you live when it comes to handling problems?” By over a two-to-one margin, respondents answered that they trust state and local government a “great deal” or “fair amount.”
It thus turns out that our Founding Fathers were on to something when they devised our federalist system that jealously protected state and local powers against central government intrusion. Although ensuing centuries have witnessed increasing and unconstitutional federal intrusions into state authority, Americans today remain far more trusting of elected officials more proximate to them.
That’s something that conservative leaders must constantly reemphasize when advocating preservation of our individual state “laboratories of democracy” to the American electorate, because it’s something they intuitively grasp.
It’s worth noting another salient finding from Gallup. Namely, the percentage of Americans who express a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in people who hold or are running for public office has actually fallen since Biden replaced Trump:
Americans’ lack of confidence in government may be related, in part, to a waning trust in the elected decision-makers who are ultimately responsible for how government functions, along with the voters who put them in office. Less than half of U.S. adults (44%) say they have a great deal or fair amount of confidence in people who hold or are running for public office, rivaling the record low of 42% from 2016.
Although Gallup conspicuously avoids noting it, trust in elected officials leapt from a record low of 42% under Barack Obama in 2016 to 55% just two years later with Donald Trump in the White House. From there Americans’ trust fell slightly in 2019 and 2020, but then plummeted again in this year’s survey with Joe Biden as president.
Two other salient points stand out from the latest round of annual Gallup surveys.
First, Americans’ approval ratings of federal government agencies have also fallen over the past two years during the transition from Trump to Biden, eight of them by double digits. Any guess which agency showed the steepest drop? That would be the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with 40% now saying it is doing an excellent or good job, down from 64% in 2019. As Gallup notes to its credit, “None of the 13 agencies measured in both 2019 and 2021 showed an increase in positive job ratings.” With the exception of NASA, which showed no change, Americans’ trust in federal agencies has fallen during the transition from Donald Trump to Joe Biden.
Second, American trust in the mainstream media has once again fallen to near-record lows. The number of Americans who express a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in the media “when it comes to reporting the news fully, accurately and fairly” has tumbled four percentage points since last year to 36%. That’s the second-lowest in Gallup’s history of measuring the question. Only 7% of Americans say they have “a great deal” and 29% “a fair amount” of trust and confidence in newspapers, television and radio news reporting, whereas 29% of respondents possess “not very much” trust in mass media and 34% maintain “none at all.”
Accordingly, as Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer seek to expand federal government intrusion into every imaginable realm of people’s lives, it’s incumbent upon conservative and libertarian leaders to highlight these realities. As government has expanded and the mass media has become increasingly malevolent, Americans’ trust in them has justifiably plummeted.
Illuminating that problematic connection is the first step in correcting it.