In my foreign policy class I talk about one measure, “trust in government,” based on public opinion data from 1964 to 1976 and beyond. In 1964 when LBJ won a massive election victory, public trust in government reached abut 85 percent. By 1976, after Vietnam and Watergate, it had declined to less than forty percent. Trust increased a bit during the Reagan period and declined during the Clinton years. This article surveys data indicating that trust in government has reached an all-time low.
While there is more to political change than “mass consciousness,” a radical decline in respect for or pride in government may be a predictor of and stimulus for radical change of one sort or another. It may be assumed that people went out in the streets in Eastern Europe in 1989, and later gave little support for maintaining the former Soviet Union, because of declining legitimacy of government.
What this means is we on the left need to confront declining trust in government both in systematically articulating why this distrust is justified and at the same time presenting a credible alternative to the present. If we do not confront this danger and opportunity creatively, the alternative may not be an humane democratic socialism but rather a cruel fascism.