“If you are the big, big tree, we are the small axe.” Bob Marley
In 2006, Barack Obama delivered a policy speech at the University of Nairobi. He told students: “If the people cannot trust their government to do the job for which it exists – to protect them and to promote their common welfare – all else is lost.” It’s a quote that sometimes gets taken out of context. Obama was not advocating civic compliance and patriotic solidarity. He was actually urging Kenyans to wrest control away from a corrupt and unfair government.
Some say a democracy is most endangered when citizens no longer trust their rulers and a disconnection occurs between the governing and the governed. If a government’s legitimacy is determined by the consent of the governed, it follows that any kind of civil dissent may be regarded by the authorities as a poisonous threat. But should that stop us dissenting? Hell, no.
In an election, political parties campaign on many issues. If they prevail over their opponents, they can reasonably claim to have a general mandate to govern in the best interests of the people, but they can hardly insist they have a specific mandate for every policy. Here in the UK, the Conservative and LibDem parties set aside their respective election manifestos to thrash out a deal that could not and does not honestly reflect the wishes of the electorate. They, and all governments, must earn our cooperation and trust.
No one should blindly place their trust in any government, or, for that matter, any religion, professional body, authority, institution or news agency. Governments do lie and abuse power. For whatever reason, news agencies do falsify, misrepresent and distort the truth. To those who say the only way to find out if you can trust people is to trust them, a reference to Adolf Hitler should be sufficient rebuke.
We shouldn’t automatically assume those in power are corrupt, but we also shouldn’t dismiss the possibility that they actually are corrupt. We should challenge and dare to ask questions. Distrust is a healthy way of exercising checks and balances.