“Public confidence in the integrity of the Government is indispensable to faith in democracy; and when we lose faith in the system, we have lost faith in everything we fight and spend for.”

Adlai Stevenson

America’s 244-year experiment in representative democracy and the freedoms it has bestowed on its citizens has endured only because its people, despite personal differences and increasing social and cultural diversity, have maintained faith in and a willingness to respect its governmental institutions and one another.  

Today, an increasingly polarized and dysfunctional Legislative Branch, more concerned with reelection and party than truth, fiscal responsibility, and political compromise, has sent its approval plunging to an all-time low of 20%.  The Executive Branch has fared only slightly better as presidents, frustrated by Congress’ impotence, have increasingly relied on often divisive executive orders and a bloated bureaucracy to achieve its policy agendas.   

The FBI, Justice Department, CDC, EPA and even the military have become targets of politically-motivated disinformation campaigns and fallen victim to conspiracy theories and the nation’s culture wars, seriously undermining the public’s trust in these and other historically revered institutions.

Until recently, the Judiciary and Supreme Court enjoyed the respect of most Americans, even when its rulings were politically unpopular; most consequently its 2000 Bush v Gore decision.  Federal agencies, State and Local governments and the public accepted and complied with the Court’s rulings.

In overturning of Roe, the conservative majority relied on the absence of any reference to abortion in the Constitution and a dubious test as to whether it was “deeply rooted in [our] history and tradition.”  The decision, seen by many as more of a reflection of the Justices personal beliefs rather than one based on science or sound legal reasoning, raised concerns about other unenumerated rights, popular with most Americans (same-sex and interracial marriage, access to contraception, and even the unconstitutionality of separate-but-equal schools), were at risk.

The Court’s continuing erosion of the “wall of separation between the church and state,” which twenty-two presidents (from Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Lincoln to Ford, Carter Reagan and Bush 41) believed essential for the health of a democratic and pluralistic republic, has raised concerns among a many religious and non-religious Americans.

Together with revelations Justices, who received and failed to disclose luxury travel, VIP sporting tickets, school tuition for family members, sweetheart real estate deals and other valuable gifts from wealthy friends, have refused to adopt a code of ethics such as those which apply to the president, members of Congress and most other senior government officials and been unwilling to recuse themselves from cases where there could be a perceived conflict of interest has dramatically eroded public confidence in the justice system and the Court’s credibility.

State and local governments are also questioning the Court’s authority.  Alabama, in defiance of a decision upholding the Voting Rights Act, approved an unconstitutional congressional map that includes only one majority-Black voting district.   Several cities in Massachusetts and other states continue to ignore a Court decision prohibiting the practice of “home equity theft.”

Recent polls show a growing number of Americans feel alienated from a government they see as failing to live up to the nation’s founding ideals and which is out-of-touch with the average citizen’s opinions and needs.  There is also concern gerrymandering and restrictive voter-eligibility legislation in many states are serious threats to inclusive, free, and fair elections.

History has sadly witnessed that once people in a democracy lose faith in their government, its institutions, and their fellow citizens they can fall under the influence of populist demagogues.  Thus, it is frightening nearly 50% of the public believes our democracy is too cumbersome and inefficient to solve America’s perceived ills and are now willing to embrace a more autocratic form of government.   

Responding to such frustrations, some of today’s most visible politicians who claim to love America are quick to marginalize certain groups of people and frequently find our Constitution an impediment to their political agendas.  Their proposed remedies for the frustrations and struggles people face on a daily basis is to tell them who or what is to blame and to fear them; suggest simplistic, often undemocratic programs; and promise a return to a utopian past that never existed. 

If Americans buy into such fear and sound bite solutions, they will eventually discover their government “of, by and for the people” and the cherished liberties they took for granted have been irrecoverably lost.