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Thuillier: American people’s disconnect with their government is unlikely to change

Marcus Thuillier, Columnist

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Politics happen all the time in Washington, yet we the people — well, most of us — know nothing about it. I, like many Americans, feel disconnected from the government and that feeling is unlikely to change. There are many reasons to distrust a government that had a cabinet worth $4.3 billion in July 2017. However, it seems the rift existing between America’s people and its government originates from a few centuries worth of ingenious design that set it up to be a democracy and a republic at the same time.

Americans have a strange relationship with their government. Those who need it the most seem to resent it the most. In France, where I grew up, the welfare system in place is generally considered to be an expensive yet fairly successful endeavor (bringing the poverty level down lower than in other similar European countries like the UK or Germany). It is a whole different story here in the United States, where “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” as president Ronald Reagan said in 1981.

On top of a general resentment towards governmental involvement in private affairs, Americans feel disconnected from the elected officials who are supposed to be representing them. At the local level, there is a feeling that the power has been taken away from the people. But in recent years, The Atlantic reports, things have changed. “Many Millennials do not share in this age-old American experience of improving fortunes.” This distrust also extends to the federal level, where just 13 percent of Americans feel representatives in Congress are primarily interested in serving the people they represent, according to a CBS News poll.

The general negative feeling towards government is not helped by the frustrating unawareness some politicians seem to have toward everyday life in America, making them seem out of touch. Back in 1992, President George H. W. Bush admitted in a debate that he did not know what a gallon of milk cost. Some people may argue expecting a president to know this kind of detail is irrelevant for their ability to lead the country, but I would argue the contrary. I want a representative who knows the price of groceries, who has lived in my neighborhood and truly understands the struggles of my neighbors over someone who does not know the price of a gallon of milk. Or at least spare me the one that doesn’t know they don’t have to provide their ID when they buy a pack of gum.

This remains an unsolvable problem. Some elected officials host town halls for example, which still need to evolve from places of anger to places of problem solving in order to be effective. Others might continue to make promises, although most will end up empty. Regardless of their efforts, they won’t be able to change a system that is inherently anti-democratic, and we the people will be stuck on one side of an ever growing rift.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the president of the United States who did not know the cost of a gallon of milk during a debate. This statement is attributed to George H. W. Bush. The Daily regrets the error.

Marcus Thuillier is a first-year graduate student. He can be contacted at marcusthuillier2019@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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