The Deep Strain of Government Distrust

The crazy market start to 2016 calmed down significantly in Tuesday trade. Volatility was modest and the selling was orderly. The Dow even managed to eke out a gain late in the session, closing 10 points higher.

The mellowing of the market today gives us a chance to address a broader societal issue that I read about over the holidays. That issue is the deep strain of government distrust among Americans.

According to a December Gallup Poll, when asked to choose among "big government," "big labor" and "big business," respondents overwhelmingly selected big government as the biggest threat to the country in the future.

The poll revealed that 69% of respondents see big government as the biggest threat to the country in the future.

That is one of the highest readings on record, according to Gallup. Yet interestingly, that metric actually is down slightly from a high of 72% in 2013, the last time Gallup asked the same question.

There are all sorts of good reasons why Americans distrust big government, and why they see it as a threat to our futures …

NSA spying revelations. Overly aggressive law-enforcement incidents. IRS probes of conservative political organizations. And now, President Obama’s new executive action on gun control.

Put it all together, and Americans just aren’t feeling the Feds.

Click image for a larger view.

Now before we continue, today’s issue is not about debating the NSA’s surveillance program, or the IRS’s overreach, or the police shootings in Ferguson and Chicago, and particularly not the president’s new gun-related curbs.

There have been, and will almost certainly be, more detailed discussions of these issues in future Afternoon Editions as they relate to investing and our liberties.

What I want to concentrate on today is something I think Americans should appreciate more. That is our right — indeed our duty — to distrust authority, power and those in a position to impose rules on us.

In fact, our high level of skepticism actually is a virtue to be celebrated.

Perhaps it’s no surprise, given the way the country was forged out of a fiery rejection of tyranny, and a longing for religious and political freedom. For many Americans, the suspicion of "Big Brother" is something seared into their very DNA.

Big Brother is watching. And we need to watch it even more closely.

In fact, when I see protests such as the Black Lives Matter movement reacting to perceived injustice on the part of police, or the current standoff/takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon by anti-government activists protesting BLM overreach, I actually feel privileged to live in a country where citizens can express their disapproval of policy.

Here again, the details of the events are not the issue as far as today’s discussion goes. Good people can and will disagree about the merits of either group’s arguments, as well as their respective tactics.

What I think we can all agree on, indeed what we all need to cherish, is the fact that these groups are taking action in a battle of ideas. Both groups are, in their own ways, putting their distrust of government into action.

The way I see it, dissent of ideas one disagrees with is a moral obligation.

Now, I am not saying it is your obligation to go out and protest, or hold up a sign, or write letters to the editor or take any action you aren’t willing to take. What I am saying is that sitting passively by and letting injustice take place — be it by big government, big business or big labor — is a sure way to tacitly permit your society to decline.

So, whatever positions you hold on controversial issues, and whatever cause or stance you feel motivated about, why not get involved and try to make things better?

Fortunately, the simplest way to do just that is to live a good life in accordance with your own principles — and in harmony with your family, friends and fellow citizens.

And when it comes to big government, big business, big labor or any powerful group that promotes ideas at odds with yours, make sure your distrust meter is always on.


In Monday’s Afternoon Edition I asked you to weigh in on your level of optimism about stocks and the economy in 2016.

Well, one reader wrote in with a great response that demonstrates perfectly what I think is a healthy distrust of government.

Bruce B. writes:

I believe that we have been and continue to be in a national political "malaise." We, as a nation, have lost much of our belief that our leaders (in all political parties and positions) want to do "right" by us. We realize that we are being manipulated and lied to. (Example: "If you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan," etc.) The two parties resemble a good old boys’ network and the "peasants" are not being represented, no matter what their politics.

Now that is the kind of distrust and skepticism we need more of.


Do you think my views on the virtue of distrust of authority figures and those who seek to impose rules on us is healthy, or do you think I’ve misplaced my sentiment?

Let me know what you think by sharing your thoughts and by leaving me a comment on our website or sending me an e-mail.


After China managed to pare its stock-market losses, U.S. stocks enjoyed a calmer day. Late in the day, the Dow Industrials and S&P 500 drifted ever-so-slightly into positive territory.

Elsewhere in the news today …

•  Oil prices slid another 2% in today’s session, to end the day at $35.97 a barrel.

•  Gold gained again, adding another 0.3% to close at $1,078.40 per troy ounce.

•  Smith & Wesson (SWHC) gained 11% and Sturm, Ruger & Co. (RGR) added 6.7% today after President Obama’s address on gun safety.

•  More trouble for China: Bank of America Merrill Lynch says it expects the Shanghai Composite to drop another 27% in 2016.

Good Luck and Happy Investing,

Brad Hoppmann


Uncommon Wisdom Daily

Your thoughts on “The Deep Strain of Government Distrust”

  1. HI Brad,

    As your column clearly illustrates via the Gallup poll, MOST people still do not understand how the world REALLY works. The majority blame the Government as the ROOT cause of distrust, when in FACT, Lord knows, the world’s governments are really under the control of the Business and Banking Elite. Maybe you aught to do a column on famous banking quotes, quotes from say folks like the Rothschilds and Rockefellers and I believe Woodrow Wilson regarding who REALLY controls the world. This goes to show you how cleaver the banking and business elite have been, since they have effectively duped the public that Government is the real culprit. Do not look at the man behind the curtain…The good news…we can see from your charts that that is starting to change as the number of people blaming big business/banking is on the rise and the number of people blaming government is on the decline.

  2. We will not be able to express our distrust of government
    much longer if Obama guts our First Amendment rights.
    We will not be able to protect ourselves if Obama guts
    our Second Amendment rights.

    Obama is slow but surly bringing in the NEW WORLD ORDER.

  3. Religion is the biggest curse on society throughout the world. The White population that emigrated to North America were mostly social misfits. Some of their decendants seem unable to learn that violence is not the answer to solving todays social problems. Time to get educated and grow up USA

  4. Mark my words… if the government goes into the Oregon BLM occupation shooting, they could be the first shots in America’s second revolution.

  5. Brad,
    You say, in essence, if I understood you correctly, that to dissent from something one disagrees with is a moral obligation. I could never accept that without qualification, and that qualification is this: it is moral to dissent from something that is not true. It is immoral to dissent from something that is true but that one disagrees with /does not want to accept because it interferes with something that one does not want to give up, etc.
    Also re the live a good life according to your own principles………..according to your “own” principles??? I just know you didn’t mean that. LOL
    I think you see where this has to go to make any real sense. Morality is much more than ones personal ideas….it is much more than ones own principles…….we don’t have many thousands of laws because the corporate body has any confidence in the results to be expected in allowing people to live by their own morality/principles.

    I appreciate your getting into the musings you do on various non investment oriented articles from time to time.

  6. I completely agree with your sentiments. I have not been as worried and distrustful of
    any administration in the last 50 years as I am with what is happening in this country
    today. The lies, the cover ups, the interference of the government in our lives is astounding
    today, and I feel helpless to do much about it. The last thing we need at this time is to have
    the bureaucrats confiscate the guns from law abiding citizens. I even have distrust of the
    rulings from the highest court in the land. The lower court Judges seem to be more in harmony with the sentiments of the people. Labor unions with millions of dollars of forced union worker’s dues to be able to buy votes for one party over another is equally distressing!

  7. We should all mistrust our government, and goverment over reach.

    In my experience, most people who work in government are decent people. That being said between the mentality of “I can’t get ahead unless I can increase my budget and hire more people under me” and “We HAVE to protect people from themselves and their own actions.”

    Between those two schools of thought those same decent people are spawning new federal regulations at the rate of 80,000 pages at last count. Plus the 1000’s of pages of new laws put in place by our Congress.

    What none of these well meaning people seem to realize is that every new law, rule, and regulation limits everyone’s personal freedom and liberty.

    How can we even dare to believe we are the most free people in the world?

    We might have been when I was a boy, but that’s been a while ago as I’m a grey beard now, and I see the fences are closing in.

  8. Wow! Great article. It Really hit home while I was reading all the comments on your site.
    For me this is the exact reason I subscribe to the Wiess services. It IS almost impossible
    to get unbiased information from any source available to the general public.The readers comments definitely reflect the distrust in all areas of our society in general. I think the 1st
    amendment is definitely being exercised “as it should be”.I think we DO need to distrust
    government,just like our founding fathers did when they had the experiences of oppression fresh in their minds. The constitution is an attempt of a people that had just escaped an oppressive government to lay down a blueprint for future generations to maintain the freedom they had just fought to gain. We should defend it at all costs.

  9. I, personally, distrust big business a whole lot more than I do big government. Not that I like big government as it is being practiced today. Because the anti-big government forces merely want to reduce the parts of government they don’t like while wanting to impose their religious beliefs ,i.e. anti choice, anti LGBT equality, the right to work for less with no job security, no taxes for things like updating our infrastructure or providing health care. I think the distrust is in the wrong place. Corral big business’ lust for paying CEOs enormous amounts of money that they haven’t earned while underpaying the people who make the company work. Then do away with corporate subsidies and see what can happen to our economy.

  10. As the satirist and critic H.L. Mencken once wrote, “It is a safe bet betting on the stupidity of the American people.” Never has this been more true than today when more than half of the eligible adults fail to vote, people are more concerned about the Kardashian’s latest narcissism and sports teams’ outcomes than the loss of liberty and punitive government actions grind the average citizen down at every opportunity. The only event that will draw the attention of a majority of people living in this country is when the government benefit checks stop flowing because no more fiat money can be printed. At that point we will have mass insurrection that law enforcement will not be able to control, even if martial law is imposed. Our country is doomed under the weak-kneed leadership we continue to elect. Not even a Donald Trump type ‘strong man’ can save us from the ruination out-of-control government spending has caused. The entrenched public and private bureaucracies will fight overdue change at every juncture if it ‘gores their oxen. and interests.’

  11. In a world of rigged markets, financial institutions, even rigged statistics, who & what can we expect to trust? The media? Controlled/owned by big business, advertisers and their 1% interests and pandering to government or CEO officialdom, so they can get front row seats to the press conferences and pre-conference tet-a tets so ardently sought by the reporting class. Access denied is death to a reporter these days. Perhaps it is Congress and/or state government elected officials? Improbable at best, since paid lobbyists have their ear 99% of the time. The NRA is a cautionary tale of how that scenario works. Social media? Filled with half-truths and obfuscations , with a big dollop of pure fantasy! The blind led by the blind! The public be conned and the public be damned; the ancient beat goes on. A glimmer of truth flickers like a candle in the wind, scarcely shedding fleeting shadows. Where is Diogenes when we need him? Restore Glass-Steagall would help.

  12. I often times hear the phrases, “Ruling Class” and “Elites” , by the establishment Media
    bandied about. I can understand the comparison to a failed Roman civilization applied to America sometimes these days…. but do some of these characters in Washington D.C. actually believe in their delusions of grandeur, that they are living in ancient Egypt and the land of the Pharaohs ? ABSOLUTELY !!!!

  13. A skeptical mistrust of government is important but a cynical disbelief in any virtue is a poison. Usually the key lies in moderation.

  14. I emphasize with the distrust, but I think it is miss-placed. The big banks need to be challenged by government regulators; who else can do it, and look at the mess thebig banks have made and they are continuing to do that. Government is needed to try toget on top of pollution problems; big business isn’t; they just want to keep going without any regulation.

    Government intervention is long overdue on the out-of-control shootings problem too.

    But anytime an attempt is made here, the call is for freedom to carry assault weapons, with result being vigulante

  15. I think the solution to the mistrust-of-concentrated-power problem is to set up a Democracy, on the notions that “Power corrupts.” & “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.”. To do that, of course, you have to stop claiming that we already have a Democracy, which is. of course, nonsense!

  16. You said: “I actually feel privileged to live in a country where citizens can express their disapproval of policy.”

    What are you talking about “priviledge?” Protesting government policies is a right, and practiced everywhere, even at great personal risk. It’s much harder protesting Big Business given they’re not elected and given their mobility, often hard to pin down. Big Government might be the current majority bugaboo but Big business is not far behind; and Big Labor? Only business gives a whit about that. And government couldn’t get much done without business to aid & abet draconian, fascist policies, so you have my best stinky face for both >:(

  17. I am a 69 year old guy about to begin withdrawing from sheltered accounts. Today, my greatest fear isn’t about retirement or health care. My greatest fear is about FedCreep and all of its bureaucratic incarnations. In 1959, when I was 13, my English teacher assigned me some directed readings that included Brave New World, 1984, and Animal Farm. I delivered my reports and received top grades, and I learned about totalitarianism and how the word is spelled. In 2016, I believe public schools would not be allowed to assign such readings. The funny thing is, I was raised in Utah, a most conservative state. Mick


  18. I strongly agree with you in not trusting our current political leadership and in perceiving a lack of trust among Americans in general. Franklin is quoted as saying (You have) “a Republic. If you can keep it.” To maintain a successful republic requires a vigilant public. We, in America, do not have a vigilant public.
    We have a moneyed elite that under current law uses its undue influence to tilt the system in their favor. We have partisan cadres on either side that cater to these elites in an effort to get what they want, whether it is political, financial or societal. We have a huge silent majority (multi-racial and multi-ethnic in nature) in the middle, many of whom do not even bother to vote.
    In order to see any improvement in our political environment we need to have this middle majority get involved. Not just vote, but get involved at the grass roots level to help direct the candidate selection process at all levels of government. Get involved in redistricting issues to make the process fairer. Promote political climates at the local level that can ameliorate the partisan housing patterns that have evolved in our neighborhoods. What we need is a non-violent revolution in American political thought and practice aimed at returning to those founding attitudes of civil cooperation.

  19. I wonder whether the sample is really representative of the population of the USA, or even of those who are likely to vote in November. I would have thought that all those who benefit from social services (healthcare, medicare, unemployment insurance, welfare public education etc) would agree with the reported results of the Gallup survey. If I am right with my suspicion that these people are hardly represented in the survey, the only question left is what proportion do these people represent in the population; if the above proportion is high, say 33%+, it will explain why, in spite of the survey results, Democrats still succeed in many elections, and over the last 80 years have ended up making government bigger.

    The increase in government intervention has been due to shortcomings of Capitalism and of the political system as they are practiced in the USA. In the 1930s it was due to 25% unemployment and a long depression, in the early 1960s it was racial discrimination that reduced access of Blacks to quality education and prevented them from voting (in the South), in the late 1960s it was the “war on poverty”, in 2008 – 2012 it was the disgrace of having of millions (20? 30?50?) Americans who did not have the RIGHT to get a basic level of (free or cheap) healthcare (not as CHARITY, but as a human RIGHT!!!), in 2016 it seems to be the inability of the American political system to reduce the unrestricted availability of firearms that seem to contribute to mass murders at a frequency that has no parallel anywhere else in the Western democracies.

  20. Stated purpose of the article:

    “What I want to concentrate on today is something I think Americans should appreciate more. That is our right — indeed our duty — to distrust authority, power and those in a position to impose rules on us.”

    Title of the article: “The Deep Strain of Government Distrust”.

    And to suggest that Obama’s action on gun control is abuse of power simply by mentioning it? Americans are heavily in favor of gun control, so it could easily be described as the President standing up to the gun lobby and the bought-and-paid-for republicans.

  21. As a Canadian it boggles the mind it boggles the mind that 69% of Americans view big government as the biggest threat to their nation. While I may question the capability of our elected officials to the Canadian federal Parliament I definitely do not feel that my elected government is directly or indirectly a threat to the future of my country. How can any modern nation/state function without its citizens trusting the very apparatus needed for the modern nation/state to exist?

    The United States is a democracy where the people elect their officials to represent them. But according to the poll and reality the very people that are elected to office are also distrusted by those who elect them. And those voters so who woefully distrust their elected officials in Washington re-elect somewhere between 80% to 90% of their representatives back into the House or Senate in each election.

    Democracy only work when the people hold those in power accountable by voting them out of office when that thrust is broken. So if 69% of Americans distrust their government but reelect +80% of the very people they mistrust is the real threat big government or apathy towards a system that rewards the status quo that keeps the very representatives they mistrust in office.

  22. Oh, I completely agree with you. I have no trust in the government, hardly any faith in the BS of politics and ultimately left with the feeling of sadness and helplessness for all the suffering of the people in our country and around the World. All for the love of POWER & GREED. I would WALK to D.C. right this minute (literaly) if it meant that my March there would produce an outcome. “We the People” however, I feel are invisible. We the all mighty “$1” talk…and that brings up another topic. How would members of Congress feel making $2.15 + tips or $7.25 an hour? Washington, States, …. do you know what $7.25 × 20-40 hrs. “MINUS” federal tax, state tax, social security ,insurance, 401k and more ha ha ha ha not DIDLEY ! What on Earth would that be like with rent, utilities, a car or transportation fare, food ,phone , household needs, insurance, emergencies and that’s IF you can find full – time work, heaven forbid if you accidently had a kid and the father accidently disspeared. You know what that looks like??? Paying rent if your lucky, health issues related to stress, relying on some form of assistance from the government (oh but we want self-sufficiency) , people making INSANE decisions such as robbing a bank (which I HAVE to believe some may do it out of desperation), drug or alcohol dependency (which ends up costing the government more for rehabilitation, court costs, etc.) oh, but wait…don’t the prisons make money for jailing people??….Doesn’t that help officers retain their position by serving and protecting us nasty poor people from the elite?? Wow, what a World. We’re not even the people TRULY bad off in this World either. Boy, are we “lucky” ! Yeah right . . .Sorry. . I’ve been holding that in a REALLY long time lol! Thank you for listening, ok “READING” 🙂 Take care

  23. Brad–
    I think folks are figuring out that ALL legislation is bought and paid for by big buck special interest groups using lobbyists. That’s why our tax code will NEVER be changed. Can you see the tax accounts or tax legal folks not fighting any tax law change?? The same can be said for every area in our country. Obama Care was bought and paid for by the insurance companies in spite of their so called public objections. These companies will make a fortune with Obama Care. Our Govt doe’s not care about the folks. Look at ethanol fuel–what a joke–but it’s supported by the farmers. My useless thoughts anyway–Dave

  24. If there is anything that is bipartisan in Washington it is lying ; Thomas Sowell, there is so many distortions there it impairs intelligence. A little white lie has a big black heart.

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