Building Trust in Government

As the incoming Obama Administration ponders how to get us out of this economic mess at home and how to restore our reputation abroad—a great part of this is to restore the people’s belief in their government.

Do we “Trust” our government? Is trust or confidence a necessary component of an effective government? How did we get here to this lowest point of credibility from the high point of the Founding Fathers who under a bond of “hanging together”[1] invested everything they had including their personal safety and lives in their newly formed government.[2]

“In God We Trust” adorns our currency and this is a testament to the American ideal that the origins and purpose of our country are bigger than those of other countries and the ideals of any one political entity (state?), political party or presidential administration. The motto first appeared on currency in 1964, largely because of the increased religious sentiment existing during the Civil War, a war which seemingly would last forever. The motto was an expression of hope and the average American’s penchant for optimism.

The motto E Pluribus Unum (Latin for “from many, one”) was approved for use on the Great Seal of the United States in 1782. Originally suggesting that out of many colonies or states emerge a single nation, it has come to suggest that out of many peoples, races, and ancestries has emerged a single people and nation – illustrating the concept of the melting pot (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E_Pluribus_Unum). The motto still appears on coins and currency, and was widely considered the de facto national motto. However, by 1956 it had not been established so by legislation as the official “national motto”. The Congressional Record of 1956 reads: “At the present time the United States has no national motto. The committee deems it most appropriate that ‘In God we trust’ be so designated as U.S. national motto” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_God_We_Trust).

So the inherent distrust of government is codified into our laws and programmed into our individual psyche.

This choice of distrust being thrust upon us by rabid evangelical Christians who distained President Jefferson’s letter enumerating the “Separation between Church and State”; even though this principal protects their rights to their own beliefs in perpetuity (what better deal is there?).   Their animosity continues through subsequent Supreme Court decisions upholding this wall of separation and the Internal Revenue Service ruling enacting a prohibition on political activities. You can tell these people when they say: “we are a Christian Nation”; a bizarre rewriting of the history of the Puritans coming here to flee the Anglicans—and other groups who came to America for religious freedom. By secularism there is a perpetual protection for all religions.

The evangelical Christians must be disappointed with the Republican Party who promised them to end abortion and gay rights. When in complete control of the House, Senate, Presidency, press and at a time when the Supreme Court made decisions like Bush versus Gore completely on ideological positions and not legally based[3]; the Karl Rove planners talked Sen. Bill Frist and Rep. Tom Delay out of bringing forward a test case against Roe versus Wade at the local level. This was because if Roe was overturned it would permanently eliminate the campaign strategy of inciting the base to riot. It is much like the Nuclear Option against filibusters being used against Republicans when out of power.

Obama’s inspirational messages of: ‘hope’, ‘change we can believe in’ and ‘yes we can’; offer a bond to the American people of taking back their government from the forces of fraud, evil and oil. Taking it back from the cronyism, corruption and incompetence of the Bush-Cheney Administration’s last eight years.

President Bush’s approval rating at 22% in November 2008 is the lowest of any President since the ratings were first taken. The Vice President’s rating of 9% back in 2006 is equally the lowest rating ever recorded. But equally bad are the approval ratings of Congress reaching a low of 10%.

 

There is a listing of criminal enterprises happening within the Bush-Cheney Administration (http://www.publicintegrity.org/investigations/broken_government/); listing 128 areas of failure. There are non-partisan Government Accountability Office reports like GAO #09-14 on the Department of Labor (Better Cost Assessments and Department-wide Performance Tracking Are Needed to Effectively Manage Competitive Sourcing Program). Where in the report it documents how the costs savings of privatization were faked. There are “officially” released lies about Weapons of Mass Destruction, al Qaeda in Iraq, the Katrina response, Walter Reed Hospital. Political campaigns with lies about Vietnam War heroes Max Cleland, John Kerry and Al Gore—while the opposing Republican candidates had dubiously obtained war deferments or even deserted[4]—shatter the confidence we have in public officials when the truth finally comes out (and it always does).

The Lee Atwater-Karl Rove style of Republican politics literally brainwashed voters by running 24/7 on television and radio stations with outright lies about their opponents. Then if the truth is ever found out about the false advertising after the election (like Willie Horton ads against Dukasis), the general public feels duped and begins to distrust government even more. The more outrageous an accusation is about the opposition candidate the more the media runs with it and the harder it is to defend against it. This is the ‘politics of personal destruction’ that the Clintons labeled and complained about. PBS’ Frontline did an expose on Atwater/Rove called Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/atwater/). In fact, the campaign against Bill Clinton started in 1989 in Arkansas and not in 1992. As a voter, a taxpayer or a citizen it becomes: the more you believe in something the more it will be undermined by these types of influence peddlers until eventually you believe in nothing—and you trust no one. This is the goal of the Republican and Neo-con operatives—you are made to ‘fear’ your government.

Think back to some other Republicans to prove these points:

Nixon’s Watergate highlights probably the biggest failure of government.[5]

Ronald Reagan’s “shining city on a hill” and “morning in America” themes of his Administration were framed by two quotations:[6]

  1. Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.[7] The era of big government is dead.
  2. The nine most dangerous words in the English language are: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’’

 

And two actions:

 

  1. Iran-Contra (the selling of drugs in Central America to buy weapons for the hostage takers in Iran).
  2. Marine Barracks in Beirut (in light of our 9-11 experience).

So no wonder we are conditioned to thinking that government fails us—when our experiences with a non-government politician show failure and his advice to us is not to trust our government. Government is said to be not as good as the private sector. The business of Big Business is doing business good. In other words, privatization saves money and does the job more efficiently. Government is incapable of being as effective as business because they have the profit motive to contend with.

But the history books don’t point out the failures of the self-described “Washington Outsiders”—guys who are supposedly not corruptible or better than the experienced set of leaders. Yet, some 3,000 officials of the Reagan Administration were investigated or indicted for a variety of corruption charges. To this day— the Reagan Administration is held up as a model of “good government.” People are still talking about taking Democrat Jackson off the $20 bill to be replaced by Reagan and petitions circulate on the Internet.[8] Another idea is taking Democrat FDR off the dime to be replaced by Republican Reagan.[9]

In the present day we know the signs of failure by a leader that doesn’t want to be in government:

1) In the article: In Tales from the Dark Side—in the trenches of Bush government…..

http://journals.democraticunderground.com/WilliamHenryMee/3

In 2004, I met a very top official in the Veteran’s Administration (flying on an airplane from Washington, D.C.). This official had been an independent appointed by HW Bush, a WWII veteran, who was very committed to veterans. They were telling stories about going to Russia and inspecting the Nuclear disarmament process. If the Homeland Security effort was a serious and valid effort to protect the nation and not to just enrich a few friends of the Presidential Administration, the following things would have been done……

 

2) In the article: “What is the Depth of the Bush corruption?”

http://journals.democraticunderground.com/WilliamHenryMee/4

The most scary thing about Sen. John McCain’s run for the Presidency is that he had tremendous last minute support from the Bush-Cheney crowd. Something that he couldn’t distance himself from or divorced himself from. Something he had to embrace to garner the support of the GOP base. There are probably some 30,000 individuals that have directly obtained federal employment under G.W. Bush by their political support of the Neocon movement.

Even the recent $700 Billion Bailout is perceived by most Americans as ineptness of the Bush Administration.

 

What will it take to “restore” our trust in government? Our belief in the ‘American Way.’

 

What will it take to be able to believe that government can help us in solving our Country’s problems?

 

Is it such a ‘credibility gap’ that the populace will never unify behind its government?

 

These are dark and desperate times, but we can rebuild the credibility if we try. It starts with transparency, transition and trust.

 

FDR got us out of the Republican Great Depression through a series of work programs called the New Deal. Things Big Business was incapable and unwilling to do (so much so that they funded a revolt against FDR using Marine Major General Smedley Darlington Butler and being organized by Prescott Bush and the American Liberty League). During WWII, Senator Harry S. Truman had to crack down on war profiteering and inefficient companies in his Committee hearings. Some companies were nationalized when they refused to support the war effort. We forget this history and are doomed to repeat it unless we can remember the 5th of November.[10]

 

As out of work actors, television directors, cameramen and artists sat around—FDR put them to work making propaganda films—thus restoring the confidence of the American People in their government. They made films that explained how the dust bowl happened and the massive erosion on the Mississippi River that happened after the floods—and encouraged farmers to start anew. Films that showed how damming the smaller rivers and making electricity from them would bring the Appalachian Mountains out of darkness and poverty (Tennessee Valley Authority). Films that showed how helping Black people in Detroit with illiteracy was just as important as helping you back home on Main Street, U.S.A. (overcoming racism and the mistrust of strangers coming to work in your town).   These were films that showed people doing productive work to bring back their dignity instead of resorting to crime or begging. Artists made posters to explain what the government was doing. Teenagers and young men joined the Civilian Conservation Corps and planted three billion trees. The Works Progress Administration built public buildings still in use today. People were taught new skills or given a chance to operate in their old industries which were long shut down by an ailing economy. Government’s job was to prevent a complete breakdown of society and to protect the greedy businesses from being looted by the 95% of people who had nothing. Small government proponents had no platform or voice because their ideas were void of reality and merit.

 

Vice President Al Gore’s Reinventing Government was a major effort to reshape the federal government into an organization that better served its customers. Here is an excerpt from a report titled: Common Sense Government:

 

People said it couldn’t be done. When President Bill Clinton announced in March 1993 that “the federal government is broken and we intend to fix it,” the old hands in Washington, D.C., shook their heads. You’ll never fix the federal government, they said. Been there, done that, doesn’t work. When he announced a government wide initiative to “reinvent government” called the National Performance Review, the skeptics raised a collective eyebrow. And six months later, when the National Performance Review’s first report‑‑From Red Tape to Results: Creating a Government that Works Better and Costs Less, the blueprint for reinvention‑‑was published, they sighed, “Another report for the shelf.”

 

Recognizing that the only way to remove skepticism was to rebuild trust, the report stated:

 

For a long while, Americans liked what they got from the federal government. They trusted it to do the right thing and to do it well. In 1963, more than three‑quarters of all Americans said they believed the federal government did the right thing most of the time. But today (1993) that figure has dropped to less than 20 percent.

 

Al Gore started another initiative called: “Rebuilding Citizen Trust in Governance Project” and this project greatly increased America’s trust in its government. I wrote the following in 1995 to describe the mood of the times:

 

We are working in a time and age where public servants are considered to be overpaid, under-worked and generally incompetent. They have become the targets of violence, ridicule and disrespect by citizens opposed to the actions of their government; with the worst case scenario being the bombing of the Federal Center in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh. Trust in the government has dropped from 76% in 1964 to 25% in 1980, then back up to 45% in 1984, and then to an all time low of 20% in 1993. By 1997, it was back up to 39% according to the Pew Foundation. Nearly every taxpayer says their taxes are too high for the value received. Only half of our citizens vote anymore because of their total disgust with the political process.

 

The report on the results of the Rebuilding Citizen Trust in Governance Project says in part:

 

The movement to reform, redesign, and reinvent government to be more accountable for performance is partly driven by declining levels of citizen trust and engagement. Public managers everywhere face more complicated duties when the public – customers – are dissatisfied. This project draws on the latest research and practice information as it searches for ways to increase levels of citizen engagement and trust in government. An Academy panel will issue a report recommending specific steps government can take to address this important issue. This project, funded by a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts to the Academy, includes a web page for scholars and practitioners working on this topic.

 

Media Support Project

 

Print and broadcast journalists help define citizen perceptions about government and public policy. If they are uninformed or misinformed, there is much greater chance that the public will be, too. This project assists journalists and news organizations in covering the biggest government news story of today – the devolution of programs, particularly welfare, from the federal government to the states. Supported by the Annie E. Casey foundation, the project provides journalists with direct linkages to experts for assistance in covering the devolution process. In addition, journalists in the six target states – Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, Michigan, Texas, and Washington – receive regular mailings about policy changes and new story ideas. Journalists may also attend related conferences and have access to extensive online resources provided by welfare reform research groups.

 

Reinventing Government and the National Performance Review was destroyed by the Bush Administration eager to get rid of anything stamped “Clinton.” Yet, their replacement programs do not take shape until four years afterward when they realize —they too needed to rebuild the image of government. But after Katrina and Bush’s quote of “great job Brownie!”—their chance to claim the mantle of trust evaporated.

 

Now the torch passes to a new administration and its standard bearer just seems more trustworthy and competent. A results-oriented and straight talking person, Barack Obama, is likely to be successful in regaining the trust of the American People. Obama’s NEW New Deal or Green New Deal is what we need to get American back on its feet again.

 

Trusting our government is easy when the People and not the politicians are given an opportunity to forge that new bond of trust.

 

<End>

[1] “If we do not hang together, surely we will all hang separately!”
~ Benjamin Franklin

 

[2] The Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence pledged: “our lives, our fortunes, our sacred honor” and literally invested everything into the new government. The fate of the Founding Fathers (the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence) was: Five signers were captured by the British as traitors, and tortured before they died; Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned; Two lost their sons in the Revolutionary Army, another had two sons captured. Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War. Most lost their personal fortunes.

[3] Reference the use of the 14th Amendment being the basis of the decision and the 500 law professors that took out a full page ad in the New York Times after the decision stating there is no basis in law for the decision. The 14th Amendment is never used because Equal Protection under the Law actually applies to both sides in every case all the time. The Supreme Court further in their opinion said that the decision could never be used as a precedence—an unprecedented decision and wording in over 210 years of legal history. The Chief Justice’s daughter and Scalia’s son worked on Bush’s legal team and there was no disclosure thus basically invalidating the decision. Had they stated we are disclosing these ties but this case is so important that all the justices need to rule and we are bigger than favoring one party over another the point would be somewhat moot. But not to discussed it when it was publicly being discussed at the time puts a cloud over the decision and the subsequent presidency.

[4] Bush deserted, Cheney had five deferments as well as Rush Limbaugh, etc. It seems the war eagles are really only chicken hawks.

[5] But in a sense it shows its greatest strength in that despite the uncovering of corruption and the impending impeachment of Nixon—the nation survived very nicely and didn’t end in a revolution or a coup.

[6] Also:

Government always finds a need for whatever money it gets. Government does not solve problems; it subsidizes them. Ronald Reagan

Government exists to protect us from each other. Where government has gone beyond its limits is in deciding to protect us from ourselves.

Government is like a baby. An alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other.

Government’s first duty is to protect the people, not run their lives.

Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.

Governments tend not to solve problems, only to rearrange them. It has been said that politics is the second oldest profession. I have learned that it bears a striking resemblance to the first. Man is not free unless government is limited. One way to make sure crime doesn’t pay would be to let the government run it. The best minds are not in government. If any were, business would steal them away.

The government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it. Today, if you invent a better mousetrap, the government comes along with a better mouse.

 

No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth!

 

[7] It is rumored he said “The era of big government is dead.” Bill Clinton did say: “The era of big government is over.”

 

[8] President Jackson crushed the large national banks that funded the opposition party and started the federal banking system.

[9] A popular saying of the FDR time from the Republican Hoover-caused Depression was: “Brother can you spare a dime?”

[10] A failed effort at reminding us of the United Kingdom’s celebration of their revolution on Guy Fawkes Day.

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