WHEN DWIGHT EISENHOWER and John Kennedy were in the White House, about 75 percent of Americans trusted the federal government to do the right thing most of the time. That number began to plummet during Lyndon Johnson's administration and by Election Day 1968 had fallen to the low 60s. It continued to fall under Richard Nixon, and by the time Jimmy Carter's term as president had ended, public trust in the federal government was down to just 30 percent. It briefly spiked above 50 percent after 9/11, then sank even lower. Barack Obama's presidency saw public trust fall to the teens, which is where it remains under Donald Trump.
Why did Americans stop trusting their government? There is no single answer, of course. But perhaps part of the reason is that the size and scope of the federal establishment metastasized far beyond the level at which it could maintain a reputation for fairness and reliability. Since the 1960s and 1970s, Washington has insisted on doing more, regulating more, intervening more, spending more, and micromanaging more than ever before. As the view increasingly took hold that the government is obliged to solve every problem, its inevitable failure to do so became impossible to ignore. The bigger government grew and the more it intruded in citizens' lives, the sourer the taste it left in many mouths.
Americans embark on this presidential election year with their trust in Washington's abilities at or near an all-time low. Yet most of the Democratic politicians running for president want the government to be given even greater powers. As vast as the federal behemoth has grown, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, and the others want it to grow vaster. . . .