A recent Gallup poll listed the least-trusted professions in America. At the bottom of the list: car salesmen and members of Congress. It’s not hard to understand why our politicians rate so poorly — scandals, myopia, obstinacy, party loyalty over common good, fiscal cliffs. All have left voters exasperated and confused. But while confidence in our elected leaders and public institutions has never been lower, we cling to the belief that democracies represent the epitome of societal and political organization. Why?
With his provocative new book, In Mistrust We Trust: Can Democracy Survive When We Don’t Trust Our Leaders?, political commentator Ivan Krastev explores this incongruity between our political head and heart. There has been a profound decline of the public’s trust in the performance of public institutions, he notes, which is an outcome of the voters’ sense of their lost power. Tech tools are of no help they may just be putting a Band-Aid on an open wound. The transparency-centered reform is not ultimately an alternative to the democracy of mistrust – a way out, so to speak – but is instead its major justification. Ultimately, Krastev ponders whether we can enjoy the many rights of our society without enjoying real political choice or power.
Krastev dissects what he calls a “transformation of democracy” and charted how, over the past 50 years, feelings of trust in the efficacy of democracy has eroded. ( This blog piece shows just how bad distrust has gotten around the globe.) As Krastev explains, five revolutions — the Woodstock-to-Wall-Street social and political revolution of the 1970s and 1980s; the “end of history revolutions of 1989; the “digital revolution” of the 1990s; the demographic revolution; and the political brain revolution that is unfolding in front of our eyes, brought by the new discoveries in the brain sciences and behaviorist economics have greatly deepened our democratic experience, making us freer than ever before. But at the same time, these revolutions fractured collective purpose, created inequality, made us skeptical of those in power, and left us feeling ineffective in creating change. As Krastev says, “What went right is also what went wrong.”
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