A frequent topic of conversation I used to have with a friend was the differences in attitudes between the Canadian populace and the American towards our respective governments. Canada was described to me as a Father knows best land, one where we put far too much trust in our government. From my perspective it is Americans who don't trust enough. This seems to lead to the difficulties in accomplishing new strategies and systems. I liken it to raising a teenager. When you put trust in them they will do all they can to earn that trust, to show that it is not misplaced. They will enjoy the freedoms you are giving to them and not abuse it. When you watch every move this leads to resentment and acting out.
I know that the US faces some difficulties in adopting new methods, difficulties not always faced by other countries. But I think the biggest one is the lack of trust, and tied into that is the divisiveness between your political parties. The entire system is set up as us vs. them, there is so much rancor and conflict that it is no wonder no trust is shown by the people.
In a March 2011 poll, only 22% of Americans said they trusted their government, one of the lowest numbers in over 50 years. Of course this number is elevated due to economic uncertainties and due to the fact that people are dissatisfied with the way they see their country going.
In similar polls and focus groups in Canada while some distrust in the government was still shown, the largest levels of trust were shown in regulations. Canadians simply do not trust big business to keep our interests, rather than their own financial interests, in the forefront. We want the government heavily involved to protect us.
Studies have also shown that our national identity, of being nice, of being caring, of taking pride in our social achievements is what fosters that sense of trust. We want to know that people are taken care of, that we are ourselves, and our governments, on both a federal and provincial level have instituted polices and programs that give us that assurance. It is easy to trust when you are being given what you want. A criticism I heard on this was that what the government gives it can take away. I think this is false fear. Any party in power that tried to take away any program that has the support of the people would find themselves out of power fairly quickly.
America was founded on the pioneer image. The bootstraps way. And I think this has carried over into your national identity too. Your country was created out of conflict and desire for freedom. It is something so deeply ingrained in the national image that any overt interference in that freedom is automatically seen as negative and not to be trusted.
I am not claiming to understand the American attitudes towards government, in fact a lot of it still perplexes me. Nor am I saying that you should or can put more trust in your elected officials. But if you look at countries that have managed changes, and put programs into place that greatly benefited the populace at large you will find much more trust in the government than yours. Just like the teenager, our governments are living up to the trust we have placed in them.