This Too Shall Pass: Chronicles from the Collapse of Trust

About two months into his presidency, President Obama summoned the titans of finance to the White House, where he admonished them sternly: “My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks.” Several recent Gallup polls suggest that the mob is growing stronger, less inclined to negotiate with political elites perceived as alarmingly disconnected from the interests of the electorate.

Messages from the angry villagers (just to extend Obama’s revolutionary metaphor) continue to grow more vehement, increasingly sung in unison:

Message from the Mob #1: The country’s leadership is failing.  According to Gallup, “Only 18% of Americans are satisfied with the way the nation is being governed, down 14 percentage points from the 32% recorded last month before the partial government shutdown began. This is the lowest government satisfaction rating in Gallup’s history of asking the question dating back to 1971.”

trust in leaders












Message from the Mob #2: We want a more in-depth reordering of our political process. According to this Gallup poll, “60% of Americans say the country needs a third major party because the current duopoly does such a poor job of representing the American people.” In the 10 years of polling on this question, Gallup has not registered a reading this high.”

trust in duopoly 2











Message from the Mob #3: It’s Not the Economy, Stupid! Gallup finds: “Thirty-three percent of Americans cite dissatisfaction with government … as the nation’s top issue, the highest such percentage in Gallup’s trend dating back to 1939.”














Considered in aggregate, these poll results express a popular indictment of all major institutional participants in the political process: The Senate and The House, Democrats and Republicans. Americans now see dysfunctional government as a more important problem than the economy. They are also pleading for fundamental changes, including the mainstreaming and greater empowerment of new political parties.

One may reasonably argue that these findings should not surprise anyone. Even the sharpest deteriorations of public sentiment represent predictable continuations of a multi-year pattern of deepening structural distrust. Negative views of the government have been spiking to historic highs for years, with the regularity of a turbo-charged tech stock in the late 90s. These barometers of national dissatisfaction can also plummet easily at the slightest sign of existential stability or with the latest wave of hopeful narratives emanating from the halls of political power.

It also should not surprise us that negative sentiment has not risen higher, and that it remains temperamentally susceptible to appeasement. The dysfunction of the U.S. government is well documented, but so is the gullibility of the electorate.

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