Two years ago, I used this column to talk about trust in government. I encouraged political leaders to “govern in a way that recognizes that political power comes from the people.” One way for leaders to do this is to stop obstructing or ignoring laws that limit government power.
Trust in government remains low, but handwringing, including mine, over whether people trust government accomplishes little.
Trust is a two-way street, so perhaps we’re measuring the wrong thing. Perhaps, instead of asking whether people trust government, we should ask, “Does the government trust the people?”
What would that look like?
Pushing governing authority to the most local unit of government possible. I won’t romanticize local government; it is just as capable of error as Congress. But people are more inclined to trust a process they can participate in. It is easier to influence local leaders you may see at church or in the pizza shop than state or national government.
Recognizing the rights of people to make personal choices. What’s better than pushing power to local government? Leaving it in the hands of individuals and families. The best way — right now — for Michigan leaders to do this would be to expand options for K-12 education. Yet Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has vetoed Student Opportunity Scholarships as well as a program that would provide $1,000 reading scholarships. Another idea for state officials: Put money back into family budgets with a tax cut rather than announce big, splashy spending programs.
Governing in a transparent fashion. Michigan leaders have a poor track record here. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer campaigned on a promise to unilaterally open her office to the Freedom of Information Act. She has been in office over 1,150 days (as of March 1) and has not fulfilled this promise. The Michigan Legislature is also slow to act. Since 2016 the Senate has ignored a bill to make gubernatorial and legislative records open to the public. And sometimes even records that must be disclosed under law must be pried out of government’s hands; the Mackinac Center has resorted to litigation nine times in the last two years.
Relying on leadership before mandates. The pandemic exposed the government’s preference for mandates. Shelter-in-place orders, mask mandates, forced business closures, distancing requirements, vaccine mandates, you name it. Yes, government is in the business of creating laws, so there’s little surprise when it does so. But mandates are blunt instruments. Leadership — true leadership — is a different thing. It persuades. Builds trust. Inspires. Poor leaders, by contrast, must resort to ordering people about.
Admitting errors, mistakes and miscalculations. Have you been the recipient of a heartfelt apology? I’ll wager it increased trust between you and the person apologizing. Yet the act of admitting mistakes in politics is considered a liability. Consider one innocuous example: Early in the pandemic, the governor mandated one- way signage for aisles in grocery stores. At some point, the requirement disappeared. The state never explained its reversal.
The officeholder who has the most power is the one who commands trust — which must be earned.