February 12, 2013

“Americans are losing trust in government”

Glenn Reynolds’ latest in USA today is dead on.  And I’m not just saying that because it reads like me, were you to shorten my sentences, make them more direct and persuasive, and remove the anger and the rancid sarcasm.  Writes Glenn:

Last week, I noted that Americans are losing confidence in their government: According to a new Pew poll, more than half see it as a threat to their freedom. That’s a troubling number. But why have things gotten so bad?

Well, perhaps it’s because government actually has become a bigger threat to freedom. There’s plenty of support for that notion, given that we’re seeing everything from TSA scanners, to widespread surveillance, to drone strikes on American citizens. Add to that the creepy sound of “Homeland Security,” and now talk of gun control or even gun confiscation, and it’s easy to see why lots of people, with lots of different political views, might come to see the government as a threat.

New York Times blogger Nate Silver — best known for his prescient election projections in 2012 — matches up the data on distrust of government with the numbers reflecting increasing government spending on welfare (“social insurance”) programs, and makes this observation:

“The declining level of trust in government since the 1970s is a fairly close mirror for the growth in spending on social insurance as a share of the gross domestic product and of overall government expenditures. We may have gone from conceiving of government as an entity that builds roads, dams and airports, provides shared services like schooling, policing and national parks, and wages wars, into the world’s largest insurance broker. Most of us don’t much care for our insurance broker.”

Government used to do big things with obvious relevance to the public good. Now it takes money from A, and gives it to B. That could be part of it.

There’s also the fact that the sheer size of the government makes it hard to do anything well. Often two different parts of the government pull in different directions — subsidizing cheese, say, while simultaneously telling us to eat less fat. […]


A government limited to relatively few things — visible things, obviously relevant to the common good — can probably do those things well. As a consequence, it is likely to be trusted and admired. A government that tries to do a lot of things, on the other hand, will probably do them badly and be less highly regarded.

The problem, of course, is that a government that does a lot of things badly is more appealing to the political class: more opportunity for graft, and for exercising the inflated self-importance that probably drives politicians even more than graft. The question is whether the government exists for the country’s benefit, or for the benefit of the political class. At present, the answer to that question is depressingly clear.

[My emphasis.]

In dealing with the self-interest of the political class, Glenn has, of late, begun to promote the idea of a new Constitutional Convention, mostly because it circumvents DC and is a way to affect the federal government without having to first try to gain popular control over it.

For my own part, I’ve resisted such a siren call, my own feeling being that we have a culture so steeped in the idea of positive rights, a political left so bent on adding potential structural defects that they can later exploit to raze the edifice and build on its rubble, and a GOP establishment that matches the passion of left’s ideology with their own doctrinal refusal to stand for anything other than trying to figure out a formula to win elections — having first bracketed out of any potential formula the very first principles that they themselves often reject, either out of some misplaced pragmatism, or out of a neo-statist mentality — and who are given to surrender and bad compromise, that we’d likely come up with a document that is riddled with poison pills and Trojan horses.

This is not to say I disagree entirely with Glenn’s position on the usefulness of at least the threat of a Constitutional Convention.  My argument merely reflects my own hesitancy, which is born out of several factors, like, eg, the kinds of delegates we’d have sent to a convention by blue states, and their likely unwillingness to compromise.

Personally, I’d like to try state resistance / non- compliance first. Then maybe a massive tax rebellion, where small businesses didnt automatically withhold taxes and instead set things up so that employees can see the taxes they are paying and refuse to send the government a check to cover what they “owe”.  Starve the government of revenue as it were.

Or put another way, I think we’d need first a kind of passive civil war in order to set the parameters for a Convention. That way we can gauge the strength if our hand.

But these are discussions worth having, because if we continue to do nothing except close our eyes really tightly and hope the bad men stop doing  bad things, we’re as cowardly as, say, Josh Marshall who extols the feeling of freedom that washes over him once he finally surrenders to an abdication of personal responsibility as a first responder, an abdication of his responsibilities as a parent and a husband, which display of timorousness he hides behind a paper-thin wall of phony moral imperatives, themselves based on the risible dream of picturing a world without guns.

We cannot merely Hope for Change.  To do so is to fall into the post-modern trap of language I discussed earlier today.

The government class relies on our impotence, having effectively closed the system, with unelected bureaucrats untouchable by the electorate and protected by civil service contracts issuing regulations that carry with them the force of law, empowering the Executive to legislate in those rare instances  where the legislature will not (itself a bit of Kabuki theater, as they nearly always reach a “compromise” after the show of adversarial headbutting).

But the question is, what’s the best strategy to circumvent them?  I’m not sure an actual Constitutional Convention is — though the threat of one is certainly promising.  Me, I still think a reassertion of state sovereignty — like, eg., what we’re seeing in South Carolina with respect to incremental federal gun grabbing  — is the best next step.

The Constitution we have is a magnificent document. As is.  It merely needs to be respected and upheld.  And that requires that Justices adhere to originalism as an interpretive necessity.  That simple change — coupled with the discrediting of the crutch of stare decisis as a kind of self-serving deference to those who really do believe themselves philosopher kings, and treat their predecessors as often unimpeachable members of a select guild — would go a long way toward reversing course.

I’ve always been an advocate of classical liberals and libertarians for SCOTUS.  And that’s because, unlike conservative justices, they appeal to the Constitution, not prior precedent.

Such a SCOTUS, together with a re-emergent insistence on federalism as outlined in the Bill of Rights, would provide the conditions for a tectonic correction to what has been a steady and increasingly pitched tilt leftward.


(h/t Dani)



Posted by Jeff G. @ 11:15am

Comments (29)

  1. i think these are some interesting ideas on their own but also in juxtaposition to the cult of chris dorner discussion below

  2. The best case scenario for a Constitutional Convention is a Vatican II-like document that leaves everyone not in attendance wondering what the hell just happened. The worst case scenario is a dissolution of the United States, followed by the kind of socio-political upheaval that afflicted central and eastern Europe during the intra-War period.

  3. Why on earth would anybody trust government? Do you know who runs the government? Politicians!

  4. remove the anger and the rancid sarcasm

    You say that like it would be a good thing.

  5. The simple idea that Americans lose trust in government means they must have trusted government heretofore, which in turn is a condition contrary to the stance of the founding of the American government.

    In that sense, surely losing trust is a kind of indicator of a better sort, in the strange reversal it implies. The paradox: only by thoroughly mistrusting government can any honest trust in government be generated.

  6. I agree, the Constitution does not need to be changed, it needs to be followed. The SC decisions that twisted the commerce clause (for instance) into a license for an all-powerful Federal government need to be reversed.

    I think the logical next step will be the States asserting their rights, but I’ve noticed that a lot of governors have caved to the lure of easy money. They need to be unelected post haste.

    Anyone who doesn’t see the Federal government as a threat is not paying attention. If you’re afraid of your government, you live in tyranny, and you know it, whether or not you admit it.

  7. Still no money in believing in principle. Worse, no understanding why you should put money in principle.

    I know my personal company would get the vapors sending out a basic memo explaining the tax increase. Because someone would probably complain, and complaining might lead to a lawsuit, and they’ve been carefully taught to avoid that at all costs. Best to trust people “figure it out” on their own.

    So know we have a bunch of old men confused about why their country went away, but albeit over a very good bottle of wine.

  8. I also see our only way out as states reclaiming their sovereignty.

    Our fundamental problem is that the federal government in DC has become MUCH bigger than constitutionally allowed. It’s the theme of Reynolds essay.

    The only way to even begin bringing the feds under control is for states to completely ignore any authority claimed by all the alphabet federal agencies declaring that everything under the sun (not to mention the sun itself) is under their control. The EPA needs to be told that coal plant is compliant to the rules last year, and an unaccountable, unelected pack of lunatics isn’t going to change the rules and shut it down. The Department of Education told we can school our own children, take a hike. ICE told the state WILL have a roll in border security. Like that.

    Unfortunately, the fly in the ointment is the federal monies states have become addicted to and dependent on. And the peoples sense of entitlement wildly beyond what a free people can realistically expect.

  9. Doesn’t the fundamental problem begin within the people themselves? After all, the people are the ultimate source of any and all powers and policies the various governments, federal, state and local as we call them, apply to plague the public condition. And in the people, misunderstanding, false opinion, misbehavior, fraud, deceit (both against others and self), and the like are the origin of the troubles. These vices in turn, or so it seems to me, originate in very poor, purposely false or simply non-existent education.

    Dr. Carson, anyhow, seems to think this is the case.

  10. Do you know who runs the government? Politicians!

    The bureaucrats struggle to stifle a giggle.

  11. Doesn’t the fundamental problem begin within the people themselves?

    That would be why Mr. Madison’s scheme emphasised indirect democracy over the alternative.

  12. Doesn’t the fundamental problem begin within the people themselves?

    Of course, in the sense that human nature is strangely self destructive. That is why our constitution is pure genius, the whole structure built to guard against the human impulse to tyranny.

    It seems a bit flip though, to just say the problem is the people. That’s 300 million individuals, most born to a country already well past constitutional limits. In a way it comes off like blaming the victim for getting mugged.

  13. ….Folks losing confidence and trust in lawmakers that ignore (budget) and exempt themselves from (Affordable Health Care Act) laws? Just two of numerous examples. No accountability, no trust, this is “government”? Not something that I enjoy paying into.

  14. What then is revealed Ernst? Among the possibilities, I’d reckon one finds the people as the weak-spot in Madison’s scheme, a weak-spot to be exploited to erase the Republican nature of the nation, replacing it with the democratic (and corrupt) alternative Madison and Hamilton abhorred. A vast undertaking, to be sure, but a plausible (and we see in hindsight) an effective undertaking.

    Or how do you see it?

  15. I don’t think it’s flip at all Lee, nor did Lincoln (nor Montesquieu, nor Aristotle) who confronted the problem very early on in his career. In any case, it’s a problem which stood and stands as one significant member of the political calculus.

  16. What’s revealed sdferr is that people are what they’be always been.

    And this in spite of Progressive’s best efforts to improve the species by one means or another.

  17. Doesn’t the fundamental problem begin within the people themselves?

    Yes, and that problem is that we’ve largely abdicated our responsibility to informed citizenship.

  18. So the people (in their constitution in nature and convention) are more fundamental than otherwise, we might say. Which, it seems to me, I said. We only have to take notice that of the two components, nature and convention, one is conveniently alterable where the other remains more or less static (on the relevant timescale, that is). But perhaps fundamental needn’t be actually fundamental, which is to say it can just as well be secondary or tertiary.

  19. What’s revealed sdferr is that people are what they’be always been.

    I’d suggest that we’re more distracted by trifles than ever before, and I surmise that this is due to the wealth and comforts that have been bestowed upon us by far greater generations than ours. We’re ignorant and frivolous, and we’re likely to remain that way until the boot on our throat focuses our attentions.

  20. That’s about it Pablo. I’ve long thought we on the right also suffer from the very perspective that places us there. Conservatives mostly just want to be left alone, and view politics through the lens of less is better . Proggs whole lives are centered on what more government can do. So while we are being responsible for ourselves and trying to ignore government, they are dreaming up social causes and organizing communities.

    Sheep naturally are herd animals, cats not so much.

  21. The bureaucrats struggle to stifle a giggle.

    If you’d ever watched a bureaucrat in his natural environment you’d know they’re the ones who practiced politics as a blood sport long before the famous Ides of March.

  22. Perhaps someday Washington D.C. will come to be known generally as The Abattoir for more patriotic reasons?

  23. or detroit on the potomac

  24. “or detroit on the potomac”

    Hey who is this new newrouter fella and what have you done with our beloved curmudgeon? ;)

  25. Any restoration of any or all of the freedoms and liberties left to us as a legacy by The Founding Fathers will fail if such restoration does not include a renewal of Virtue by enough of the citizens of The United States.

    That’s an awfully high mountain to climb, but there are a few – a happy few, a band of brothers [and sisters], as it were – who either possess it or have the ability to acquire it, which is why I think any hope for the survival of The American Experiment lies in several of the Several States.

    Those conservatives and Classical Liberals who fall into one of those two categories need to gather in a select group of states and take charge of the governments within in them at all levels. Once this is achieved, we can begin The Restoration.

    We are not — repeat not — Revolutionaries, but Outlaws, declared as such and driven into the woods and caves by Tyrants bent on destroying all that is Right and Good. We need to band together spiritually and physically.

    If we are mark’d to die, we are enough
    To do our country loss; and if to live,
    The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
    God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.

    Henry V, Act IV, scene iii

  26. Any restoration of any or all of the freedoms and liberties left to us as a legacy by The Founding Fathers will fail if such restoration does not include a renewal of Virtue by enough of the citizens of The United States.


    Virtue isn’t inherent, it’s learned. Either in a strong two-parent family with parents who learned it first, or in a religious environment (but I repeat myself). Democrats (actually the ideological Leftists who’ve taken over that Party) overtly hate religions and religious expression; and by their policies of division and ‘welfare’ entitlements cause families to disintegrate.

    A Government is never virtuous. An entitlement handout from Government is never virtuous, when that handout comes with ideological handcuffs.

  27. If I nailed it, then you, serr8d, drove it home.

  28. Pingback: Restoration, Virtue, And The Several States « The Camp Of The Saints