The Corner

Politics & Policy

Gee, Why Don’t Americans ‘Trust Their Government to Make Rational Choices’?

Over in City Journal, Guy Sorman observes that South Korea has had a much easier time mitigating the coronavirus pandemic because of high levels of social trust.

The achievement of the South Korean model cannot be understood without emphasizing its cultural basis. The South Korean people may like or dislike their government, but they trust that it makes rational choices. These choices are well explained and well understood because South Koreans believe in scientific progress. And the national strategy is thoroughly applied because South Koreans share a strong sense of collective discipline: shame on you if you do not wear a mask or forget to wash your hands. If you’re ordered to quarantine, the order is not a suggestion, and your family and neighbors will not let you escape for a walk in the park or a trip to the store.

Meanwhile, here in the United States, the president has asserted that doctors are inflating the death count of the coronavirus because they want to make more money.

South Koreans “trust that their government makes rational choices,” huh? Boy, that must be nice.

Over here we have localities instituting curfews (apparently the virus is like a vampire and more active at night), governors banning sales of paint, flooring and gardening tools, citations for people sitting inside their cars for watching the sunset at the beach, and we have the New York City Health Department issuing the guidance, “Be creative with sexual positions and physical barriers, like walls, that allow sexual contact while preventing close face to face contact.” (Insert “we’re going to build a big beautiful wall” joke here.)

Why do Americans not trust their government to make rational choices regarding the pandemic? Because some governments are making wildly irrational choices, which makes it easier for everyone to disregard any rule that seems too strict or inconvenient.

What’s more, the lawmakers who are calling for some of the strictest restrictions have made clear they do not believe those restrictions apply to themselves. Starting with California governor Gavin Newsom . . .

Why did Newsom attend his friend’s birthday party on Nov. 6 when he was telling his constituents to do one thing (dine in alone), while he and his wife did another (dined out with friends)?

How sincere was his subsequent apology following the very public spanking he received after the San Francisco Chronicle broke the news that he’d broken the rules?

And why does our governor hang out with a lobbyist who is trying to influence him on behalf of clients?

Or nearly 20 lawmakers from California, Texas, and Washington traveling to Hawaii this week for a conference with lobbyists for the Independent Voter Project. Or Washington, D.C., mayor Muriel Bowser attending President-elect Joe Biden’s victory celebration in Delaware, breaking her own coronavirus restrictions.

Or Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot celebrating with crowds in the streets while pushing for a new stay-at-home order. Or New Jersey governor Phil Murphy breaking his own executive order on large gatherings. Everyone can find glaring examples of lawmakers who believe the rules don’t apply to them, and conclude that if the politicians don’t see much risk in breaking the rules, they shouldn’t see much risk in breaking them either.

When will federal, state, and local governments start enjoying the benefits of greater public trust? After they start earning that trust again.

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