In a rare display of tripartisanship, Americans this month have declared that they have almost no trust in Congress. A Gallup poll revealed the following: “Public displeasure with Congress is equally rampant across political groups, with Republicans (9%), independents (8%), and Democrats (10%) giving the institution similarly low approval ratings.”
Gallup awarded Congress a 9. This is the worst performance in the 39 years that Gallup has polled the public on this issue. The previous low was 10, reached twice in 2012.
This may seem insignificant. It isn’t. This is a matter of lost legitimacy. When the public ceases to trust an organization, that organization faces credibility issues. Over time, the organization will lose influence.
Legitimacy undergirds democracy. When voters lose faith in Congress, this means that they lose faith in the outcome of Congress’s wrangling. They no longer believe in the ethical reliability of the source of legislation.
When voters lose faith in legislation, they lose faith in law.
The source of law is the god of a society. If the source of legislation is distrusted, then its claim to represent the law is undermined.
Two words threaten legitimacy: “Oh yeah?”
Two other words also threaten legitimacy: “Says you.”
Today, the vast majority of American voters are saying these four words to Congress.
What can Congress do to restore confidence? Nothing. Once an institution falls below double digits in public approval, it is in a death spiral.
The heart of all government is self-government. If the public ceases to grant approval to Congress, individuals will begin to break the law. They may not be open about this, but they will no longer predictably conform.
The state’s power rests on voluntary conformity to the law. But this power in turn rests on authority: the public’s granting of legitimacy to the state. This authority is being withdrawn, voter by voter. This is not organized. This is why it is such a threat to the U.S. government. The bureaucrats cannot stamp out this process, precisely because it is not organized. It is spreading.
The Internet is a big part of this. It is offering too many viewpoints. The Establishment has been a source of the federal government’s legitimacy, because it has controlled the distribution of information. This control is ending. TV networks, local newspapers, and the public schools have been the main outlets for federal government propaganda. The first two are visibly going bankrupt. The third is losing support, although more slowly.
We are seeing the decline of approval in the source of legislation. Over time, the legislation itself will cease to gain approval. At that point, obedience will be based on fear, not approval. Fear never works as well as approval to gain compliance.
How fearful should the public be of an institution that cannot get a website to work properly?
The little men behind the curtain are facing a major problem.