Before the popularity of credit and debit cards, I often saw the same sign in Mom-and-Pop stores all across West Virginia: “In God we trust. All others pay cash.” It was a good way to do business then, but the sign almost always made me laugh.
Of course, what made it funny was the fact that the motto “In God We Trust” was prominently displayed on all our money – well, at least starting in 1956 when Congress and President Eisenhower made it the law.
Ironically, back then, the American people also trusted their government. In fact, in one poll in 1958, 73 percent of Americans said they trusted the government in Washington to do what was right “most of the time” or “just about always.”
During my staff’s “Commonsense Connections” tour earlier this month and my “Working for West Virginians” tour of our state last week, it was obvious that trust in Washington may be at an all-time low.
After what’s happened in Washington the last few weeks – new questions about Benghazi, the IRS targeting political organizations, and the Justice Department’s secret gathering of journalists’ phone records – it’s hardly surprising that people are angry and distrustful.
Distrust of government is healthy. It’s what gave birth to America. With the cry of “taxation without representation,” the colonists broke their bonds to the British crown, and a new nation was born, conceived in liberty.
But American democracy cannot function if the bond of trust between the people and their government is broken. And today, Americans trust Washington about as much as those Mom-and-Pop stores used to trust people who wanted to buy on credit.
Some polls say only about 10 percent of Americans trust Washington. And frankly, there are some days I’m surprised it’s that high; since no Member of Congress has that many relatives.
To restore trust, Washington must start leveling with the American people about what needs to be done.
We need to get our nation’s revenues and expenditures into balance because budget deficits that approach $1 trillion and a national debt that exceeds $16 trillion bleed us dry economically and undermine our military might.
We need to get rid of the waste and duplication in government programs because anybody who has run a business knows there’s always a more efficient, cost-saving way of doing things.
We need a more robust economy that creates millions of new jobs and allows us to make investments in infrastructure, education and research that sustain growth.
We need an “all-of-the-above” energy policy that puts all of our natural resources to work to keep the American economy the global leader.
We need to reform and simplify our tax system so it doesn’t favor just those who have access to the power brokers in Washington but ensures that everyone pays a fair share.
We need an immigration system that, first and foremost, protects our borders and ensures legal access to this great country of ours.
I’ll admit, Washington has talked about doing all these things for nearly a decade now, but it has done so in ways that placed blame or scored political points. That has to end.
To win back the trust of the American people, the leaders in Washington have to start leading.
They have to pursue common sense solutions rather than political bickering.
And they have to focus their energy on the next generation, not the next election.
It is in God we trust – not in Government. And that’s the way it should be. But if Washington can earn back some of the trust of the people it is supposed to serve, America will once again do extraordinary things.