We Expect Too Much of Government
Americans are not thrilled with government. Gallup’s “Mood of the Country” survey published earlier this year found that only 30% of Americans are happy with their government. That’s a 13-point decline in just two years. Yes, it’s been a particularly rough couple years but dissatisfaction with government and politicians is not a new phenomenon.
Despite the fact that Americans think Barack Obama is likeable, his average approval rating was 47 during his last four years as president. The candidate of “Hope and Change” was arguably the best thing that ever happened to the Republican Party. They picked up nearly 1,000 seats in state and federal offices during Obama’s eight years. Most of those gains have held.
Donald Trump was the antidote to Hope and Change, but that hardly calmed the nations nerves. He was one of the most polarizing presidents in American history with an approval rating that reflected it. He would be the most unpopular president in recent American history were it not for his replacement, Joe Biden, who has the lowest approval rating at this point in his presidency of any president since the 1950s when the question was first asked.
We haven’t always hated the president. In the 1950s and 1960s, presidents from both parties had approval ratings in the 60s. President John F. Kennedy’s approval rating was at 73% two years into his presidency, but you have to go back nearly 20 years to George W. Bush to find a president with support over 50% — and his numbers are largely attributable to the War on Terror the country had not yet soured on. These days, regardless of who we elect, they end up being a disappointment for most of us.
Undoubtedly, the 24-hour news cycle and the growth of social media is feeding our political dissatisfaction, but we should also consider whether we are expecting things from government that it is incapable of doing.
Yes, the public has the right to expect a strong national defense, public utilities, and infrastructure that serves the common good. We also have the right to expect core functions of government to be done competently. Increasingly, however, government is promising to fill the roles of provider, savior, and Lord that God intended for Himself.
An increasing number look to government for housing and a universal basic income. We have long asked government to regulate things like baby food production, then we demand that government fix the baby food shortages caused by their regulation of baby food production. We ask them to provide, fund, and supervise health care, monitor pronoun usage, end racism, guarantee paid vacations, bring unity, protect our civil liberties, and lower the temperature of the planet. No problem is so big — or so small — that we don’t instinctively look to government for a solution.
No wonder government is failing to meet our expectations.
God made three institutions: the family, church, and government. He made each of them to fulfill a distinct purpose, and when they function in the way He intended, they are a source of great blessing. But He never intended, for example, for the government to do things the family was designed to do. Most importantly, He never intended any of these institutions to fill the role only He can fill.
Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. Once we decided God no longer exists, someone had to be in charge. So we promoted government to the position once filled by God. This is perhaps the most obvious and most serious example of being promoted beyond your capacity one could imagine.
We want someone to supply all our needs. We want someone to keep us safe from all harm. We want someone to mend our broken hearts, wipe away our tears, and give us hope that one day things will be better. This is the role God intended for Himself, but now that “God is dead,” we look to politicians instead. No wonder their approval ratings are so low — and we’re all so sad.
Joseph Backholm is Senior Fellow for Biblical Worldview and Strategic Engagement at Family Research Council.