This essay is part of a RealClearPolicy series centered on the American Project, an initiative of the Pepperdine School of Public Policy. The project looks to the country’s founding principles to respond to our current cultural and political upheaval.
Nearly three-quarters of Americans trust their local governments. And Congress? Just 40 percent trust our country’s legislative branch — the lowest of all major institutions in this country. It is also in these smaller governments located outside of Washington, D.C., where Americans perceive progress on the country’s major challenges. So why do we so often call on the distant reach of our capital to solve problems that are right in front of us?
Americans trust their local governments because they are tasked with doing things we want: keeping us safe, educating our children, cleaning the streets. And while we have some say in who our nationally elected leaders are and what they do, it is hardly the sort of choice offered by our nearly 36,000 local governments. At the local level, we may vote with our feet as well as our ballots.
It is time we gave local a chance once again. The people and places closest to us are where we tend to direct our care and our energy; they should enjoy the authority necessary for diverse citizens to pursue flourishing lives together. In the 21st century, localism should be the rallying cry for those who believe in a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
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