For more than half a century, the National Election Survey has been asking Americans a simple question: Do you trust the federal government to do the right thing all of the time, or at least most of the time?
In 1958, the first year this survey was conducted, the number was 73-that is, 73% of Americans polled said, yes, they trusted their government to do the right thing at least most of the time.
For a long time, the number remained high.
1968 was a year of historic convulsions. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, Bobby Kennedy was killed, North Korea captured a US surveillance ship, and North Vietnam launched the Tet offensive. Faith in government went down, but overall, it held firm. 62% still trusted government.
After Watergate, the number took a big hit, dropping to 36%.
But today? Eighteen.
From 73 to 18. Not even one in five Americans today trust their government to do the right thing.
I'd love to stand here and tell you that this was some sudden drop after Donald Trump was elected, but that wouldn't be true.
This problem is far bigger than Trump.
The way I see it, a loss of faith this broad, and this profound, is more than a problem it is a crisis. A crisis of faith.
This is the kind of crisis that leads people to turn away from democracy. The kind of crisis that forces people to stop believing in what we can do together. The kind of crisis that creates fertile ground for cynicism and discouragement. The kind of crisis that gives rise to authoritarians.
Why have so many people lost faith? Thoughtful people give different answers.
Some say it's the result of politicians making government the enemy. And that's true.
Since Watergate, generation after generation of American politicians have attacked the very idea that our government can do anything right. Recall Ronald Reagan's famous line: What are the nine most terrifying words in the English language? I'm from the government and I'm here to help.