In the years since WWII, the American political consensus has vacillated between trust in the federal government and fear of its concentrated power. How have such ideas on the role of government evolved over time? Why did civil rights activists regard federal forces as the “custodian of American freedom” in the 1960s, and how did conservative activists frame the issue in the Reagan years? Trace the changing conditions from the early Cold War and the Great Society, into the period of the Vietnam War and Watergate, the Reagan years and neoliberalism, and through our contemporary moment. In what instances has an interventionist federal government proven its usefulness in securing public safety and constitutional rights? When has the federal government performed in ways that have undermined or threatened the public trust? Which of these has been more influential in shaping public opinion and ideas of governance, and how has this conversation on political power been shaped by evolving perceptions of American identity and culture?