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Politics & Policy

Ferguson, Mo., Is Destroying Public Faith in Government

Protesters raise their hands in front of police on top of an armored vehicle in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 13

Photographs by J.B. Forbes/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP Photo

Protesters raise their hands in front of police on top of an armored vehicle in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 13

There’s a long list of reasons to be angry about what’s happened in Ferguson, Mo., since a police officer there shot and killed an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, last Saturday. One of them is the astonishing absence of oversight from government officials as the local police, armed to the teeth, have effectively laid siege to local protesters, shooting them with rubber bullets and tear gas, arresting reporters, and inflaming the situation in a way that seems likely to lead to more violence.

The biggest failure in this regard belongs to Missouri’s governor, Jay Nixon, whose inexplicable absence from Ferguson and neglect of this mounting national crisis in his own backyard became so acute on Wednesday night that Twitter (TWTR) turned into a social media version of Where’s Waldo? directed at locating him. Nixon’s failure to take clear steps to ease the escalating tensions is a danger to everyone on the scene in Ferguson. But it’s also doing a great deal to drain what little public faith remains in government.

Nixon is a Democrat. Democrats are the party of government. Nixon won 92 percent of the black vote in 2012. Those supporters, and everyone watching on television and online, have witnessed five days of a dangerous and inept arm of government run amok, which is certain to exacerbate the national downward trend in the public’s trust in government:

Pew Research Center

Late last night, Nixon (or whoever handles his social media) finally materialized on Twitter to announce he was canceling his planned Thursday visit to the Missouri State Fair to go to Ferguson. On Thursday afternoon he’s expected to hold a press conference. It’s about time. Here’s hoping he finds a way to de-escalate the violence. (He can probably kiss his White House aspirations goodbye, though.)

But Nixon is already responsible for plenty of damage. And liberals who bemoan the public’s loss of faith in government can direct plenty of ire his way.

Green is senior national correspondent for Bloomberg Businessweek in Washington. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaGreen.

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