The recent plane crash into an IRS building by a man angry at the federal government over taxes brings into sharp relief what Americans think about the feds.
A Gallup Poll last month had the "federal government" with the highest negative score of several institutions, beaten only by the vague and abstract "socialism." "Small business" did best, followed by some vague abstractions like "capitalism." Asking over time what's the biggest threat and given three choices (big government, big labor, and big business), a USAToday/Gallup poll finds big government improving by comparison and big business becoming the bad boy of the three. No doubt this is a bailout/recession effect.
You can find these numbers here.
Another way to view distrust in the federal government is below, a graph taken from the American National Election Studies data.
The trend line obviously increases, drops a little during the 1980s, then begins a slow rise during the partisan 1990s but begins a curious turn downward, perhaps in part caused by 9/11. What I don't have here is the line from 2006-2008 data, which I suspect inches downward again. But that's just a guess.