Why do Americans Trust the Government?

Most Americans trust their government.

They shouldn’t.

People often reveal this default position in the way they respond to any suggestion that the government might act with intentionally nefarious intent. They will throw around words like “stupid,” “absurd,” and “idiotic,” without actually engaging the argument itself. They view the possibility of intentional government malfeasance so far outside the realm of possibility, they don’t even find it worthy of discussion or serious consideration.

For instance, a commenter on a Facebook thread suggested that the government might want the Ebola virus to spread so that it can take actions the public might not otherwise accept. In other words, he suggested that the government might value the Ebola “crisis” because of the potential for expanding its power and influence.

A second commenter quickly blew off the suggestion as “absurd.”

That the US government *wants* the Ebola virus to spread and things to get bad so they can look good by coming along and make things better… It’s just so absurd that it boggles my mind that we’re even discussing it.

I’m sure some of you reading this have the same reaction. You just can’t fathom that the government would actually want to use or manufacture a crisis in order to expand power or raise its own stock. You trust the government. You believe it has your best interest at heart.

That’s how we are all conditioned to think. mother...

We shouldn’t.

Please understand, I am not arguing that Ebola or the US response represnts some kind of conspiracy. I don’t agree with the initial commenter. But I also don’t find his comment “absurd.” Stop and really think about it. Is the idea that the government would do such a thing really that far outside of the realm of possibility?

No.

I’m sure if there was a Facebook in 1962, people would have called somebody suggesting that the US was developing a plan to blow up a US ship at Guantanamo Bay because, “casualty lists in U.S. newspapers would cause a helpful wave of national indignation,”  and make the public more prone to support a war absurd as well. I’m sure a person posting about government plans to kill astronaut John Glenn and blame it on the Cubans in order to start a war would find herself labeled a “conspiracy nut. 

But yeah, that happened.

So, since things like this have happened, that takes suggesting similar things could happen again outside the realm of “absurd” and into the realm of “unlikely, but certainly conceivable.”

I am not personally prone to conspiracy theories. But I know for a fact the government uses “crises” like Ebola – which isn’t in any real sense a crisis in the U.S. – as a springboard to do things the public would normally reject. For instance, the Patriot Act was really a laundry list of proposals law enforcement had been pushing for since the 1980s, but couldn’t get because they violate basic civil liberties. I don’t believe the US government caused 9/11, but it sure as heck used that attack to justify a lot of bad crap.

The Facebook commenter wasn’t convinced by my argument and continued to insist the entire notion of government duplicity was “stupid.” He simply couldn’t think beyond his engrained trust of the government. He even appealed to government worker benevolence.

I still say that the conspiracy theory we’re currently discussing is absolutely absurd. It’s just plain stupid. The CDC, for example, is made up of people like you and me who want to make a difference.

This clearly reveals our commenter’s default position – “trust the government and give it the benefit of the doubt.” Asserting that the CDC “is made up of people like you and me who want to make a difference” belies this point of view.

This argument doesn’t provide an ounce of comfort.

The Department of Defense in 1962 was made of of those same kinds of people, and yet they were willing to kill Americans to start a war. Those same kinds of people make up the NSA today, but they justify violating the Fourth Amendment and gobbling up your private data. The federal employees who sprayed poor black people in St. Louis with radioactive chemicals as an experiment were those same kind of people. They were all doing things they thought were in the best interest of the United State, or simply following orders.

To quote C.S. Lewis, “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.”

Simply put – government’s conception of “best interest” generally revolves around increasing its power and influence and controlling the general population for “its own good.”

And as Rahm Emanuel famously pointed out, the political class does not allow a crisis, real or contrived, to go to waste.

Centralized power always ultimately leads to abuse and therefore should never be trusted. Our default position should be never give government the benefit of the doubt, and always assume it will use power to the disadvantage of the average person.

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