By Caden Fabbi
When following media coverage of protests across the nation in recent weeks regarding the Michael Brown and Eric Garner court cases, there has been one consistent thought that has stuck in my mind: Americans no longer trust their government to carry out its most basic duties.
This is unacceptable — not from the people’s end, but from the government’s end. Governments have a responsibility to listen to their citizens’ concerns and act in the best interest of each person.
A June article published in the Washington Post discussed how, because party politics are so polarizing, Americans do not trust those in positions of authority. When Democrats are in power, Republicans tend to trust the government significantly less, while when Republicans are in power, Democrats tend to reflect the same distrust. This inevitably results in political gridlock, which is a huge problem for any government. Gridlock leads to a lack of action, leaving citizens even more dissatisfied with the government than before.
The amount of polarization between America’s leading political parties during the past two presidential administrations (Obama and Bush) has been significantly higher than the distrust during prior administrations as shown through polling.
The decrease in trust may have stemmed from the attempted impeachment of Clinton during his presidency, where Republicans were pushing particularly hard for Clinton’s removal from office. This led to further party polarization and consequently, more gridlock and distrust.
There is also a stark difference for specific groups that are committed to a certain ideological electorate. For example, conservatives generally have less positive feelings toward gays and lesbians, labor unions and atheists, while Liberals have less positive feelings toward Christian fundamentalists, “big business” and the Tea Party movement.
When people who are a part of these factions, or support them, are elected, they are met with hostility by the opposing party. This leads to even higher polarization and lack of action — and eventually, brutal re-election campaigns.
With incidents such as school shootings occurring more and more frequently in recent years, and with a perceived lack of action on such issues, one can imagine how Americans have grown even more distrustful of their government. For many, it seems like the government can’t perform some of its most basic duties — particularly public safety.
Then, the events of Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York happened.
Regardless of individual feelings on each of these cases, at the very least, American leaders need to listen to what the thousands of protestors are trying to say —peacefully and appropriately or not: something is wrong. And someone needs to do something about it. Whether it is a race, socioeconomic or government oversight and police issue — people see a problem, and it doesn’t seem like they’ll rest easily until there is a solution.
Many people, justified or not, do not believe that law enforcement agencies can protect them anymore; rather, many feel that law enforcement agencies are out to hurt them.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a psychological theory that outlines basic human needs, discusses the importance of humans feeling safe. In order for this need to be met, people need to feel a sense of personal security. This is why there are law enforcement agencies and public safety officials; people cannot operate as they should when they do not feel secure. My point is that we should never discount the importance of feeling safe in our community and trusting our law enforcement.
In the short-term, it does seem like the government is trying to respond to these occurrences. The White House is calling for an increase in body cameras for police officers (although it should be noted that there was a body camera in the case of Garner), and many representatives are calling for some type of reform or increase in training for the police.
This is a good thing — it appears that representatives are listening to the people, and in order for people to trust their government again, they need to feel that their voices are being heard and their opinions considered because being heard is the first step in creating change.
Nonetheless, two lives were lost in these cases, and Americans will not forget. And until they do forget that, or come to terms with it and become satisfied with their representative’s’ responses, they will continue to distrust the government.
Caden Fabbi studies political science. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.