Whitney Smith’s phone buzzed with a text from her mother, alerting her to the latest can-you-believe-it mess in Washington: "Far right ousted the House speaker. Total chaos now.”

Smith, 35, a bookkeeper and registered independent in suburban Phoenix, wanted no part of it. She tries to stay engaged in civic life by voting, volunteering in local campaigns and going to city meetings. But over the past week, the pandemonium of a narrowly averted government shutdown and leadership coup in the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives confirmed many Americans’ most cynical feelings about the federal government.

"It was just like, Oh God, what now?” she said.