For decades now, mainly since Ronald Reagan declared that government was the problem, trust in government and public institutions has declined. Currently 21% of Republicans or Republican leaning independents feel they can trust the government while 14% of Democrats do. And sadly in a partisan era more Democrats than Republicans trusted government during the Obama administration. The labels attached to each party’s underlying philosophy, for example that Democrats see government as an answer to social problems, obviously contribute to the partisanship behind trust in government. That’s why what’s going on in California is certainly worth notice. The state government is using its power to compensate, make up for, offset or contradict the laws and actions of the current administration. We’ve heard about the law making Uber and Lyft drivers employees instead of contractors, and also of a statewide rent control law meant to protect tenants against the kind of rent increases that could render them homeless. There is also a law not yet signed by the governor making medical abortions (that is the 2 pills combo) available to those who want or need it on all state universities. Chris Lehane, a former political advisor to Bill Clinton, calls this a renaissance in the belief in government. The administration is of course trying to challenge California’s resistance. But the trend may well go beyond their failure or victor, the idea that government can pass constructive laws to better the lives of its citizens may be positioned to make a comeback, suggesting we revisit the idea that government is the problem as well as the role of government in general.
The NYT researched how each member of Congress arrived there and published a graphic which anyone can use. They compare Congress members as our unofficial aristocracy since they are in effect our ruling class. What they found is that they do not represent the average citizen. As a whole their history, opportunities, background, personal wealth, education can much differ from those of their constituents. An important conclusion they suggest is that it seems the US only has a limited number of ways to enter the halls of power. There may be some difference between Democrats and Republicans, for instance more Republicans house members were formerly in business are opposed to the number of Democrats. The implication is that one’s experience predisposes one to certain issues. In the case of those who were in business, they are more likely to be pro-business in their votes and the issues they sponsor and the type of bills they introduce. Congress members are wealthier than the average American and that too makes a difference, sometimes sponsoring legislation that benefits their own class at the expense of others.
The United States is a representative democracy, meaning that those who make decisions on behalf of the people ought to represent them. The variance that exists between citizens and their representatives has become troubling. I have not read or heard any real answer to this, but if we want our democracy to regain its vibrancy, if we want Congress to be representative of the needs and aspirations of citizens, it would seem one way to start is by electing people who are more like us. And let’s note, that means we have to vote!