For certain, most Americans today do not trust the federal government. Whether it is the recent scandals revealing widespread abuse of power, the standard gridlock between two parties on important legislation, or the uncomfortably massive bureaucracy, the average citizen has a healthy suspicion that elected politicians do not act in the public’s best interest. This cynicism has dramatically climbed, as the present age is lamentably untrustworthy, and the nation feels out of control.
While our current lack of faith is caused by unprecedented breaches from the Obama administration, a distrust of government has always been part of the American political system. When the Founders proposed the Constitution, many feared that it would re-install tyranny under a domestic title. But the Founders shared those fears: they sought to spread power among many to prevent tyranny and maintain effective government. They believed free society functions best when the people refuse to easily give their consent and power to their leaders, guaranteeing the continuance of their liberty. At its best, the system must expect disappointment and prepare for it.
This distrust of political power, however, should also have its limits. Our alarm at having such a fidelity crisis is a fear that suspicion will become limitless. It is depressing when reality checks our patriotic ideals; despite our ability to elect whomever we chose, the greedy allure of Washington eventually and inevitably turns them into partisan self-seeking power brokers. The Jimmy Stewarts belonged to a different age, and they’re not coming back. Nevertheless, we hope sometime this disappointment will end, that leaders will rise who reliably enact our ideals and the American dream of lasting freedom is not beyond redemption.
If a certain faith in government cannot be restored, we are subject to greater danger than disillusion. As a republic, it is not feasible for the American people to self-govern directly, at least beyond the issues relevant to our immediate communities. For national and state problems, we must delegate authority to the chosen few, unless we want to lose the benefits of the many wonderful cultures and societies within the United States. We have to trust somebody, but we don’t always have the time to rebuild trust with established politicians, or to build it anew in candidates. This means we always elect with the possibility that the leader will disappoint our aims in some form or another.
That gets us back to the initial question: can we trust those to whom we give power? It is a civilized necessity, beyond the constraints even of our form of government, to reach the point of trusting another person to lead. If we never believe in someone, we leave ourselves open to following anyone. Unchecked skepticism leads to gullibility, because people must have someone to believe in; we refuse to remain in the anarchic terror of unbelief.
In such an unstable environment, it is obvious why many Americans still cling firmly to their belief in God. When many popular movements regard religion as oppressive, why do so many Americans still believe in a God they cannot see or hear? Perhaps the better question to ask is why they continue to believe in a God who loves them enough to die for them. Regardless of whether deity exists, such promises are more than what any legislative or executive official has given Americans to believe, faithful or not. Lincoln comes close, but his legacy cannot promise resurrection or eternal providence.
Some consider the slogan “In God We Trust” written upon our money and monuments to be a bygone phrase, the continuing existence of a violation to the institutionalized divide between official business and personal faith. One should likewise consider the benefit in having faith that, above the mortal squabbles which can only give us doubt, a supreme benevolence guards our nation from injustice and seeks the happiness of her citizens. We shall believe, so is it not better to trust a benign Creator and Savior, for the nation’s ultimate fate, than to trust in politicians who have and who will lead us astray?
Christian theology won’t solve the debt crisis or navigate the balance between national security and individual freedom, but it gives Americans a hope that bolsters their ability to let politics naturally unfold, without fatally mistrusting their temporary leaders. The Founding Fathers were at least deists, because they could only reconcile the rights of men if there was a sovereign God ruling the world, and could only hope for the success of federalism if people remembered the fallibility of their leaders. Jesus gives peace that passes understanding; human leaders are often tone deaf beyond patience. Americans would do well to trust in God as their sustaining liberty, and trust the government only as their conditional.