Since the time of Watergate and Vietnam, trust in government has fallen precipitously. This can easily be sensed in the apathy and divisiveness that now characterize American politics, but it is perhaps most clearly revealed in poll data. The great majority of Americans do not trust the government “to do what’s right all or most of the time”. Nor do they believe that government is run for “the benefit of all” rather than for “a few big interests”. The nine essays in this volume detail the present character of distrust, analyze its causes, assess the dangers it poses for the future of representative government in the United States, and suggest remedies.The focus of the analysis is on Congress because of its pivotal role in representative government in the United States. The authors also examine patterns of trust in societal institutions and trust in the Presidency, especially in light of the Clinton impeachment controversy. Because the causes and effects of distrust are complex and pervasive, the individual chapters highlight many of the defining features and issues of contemporary American politics. These include the emergence of a politics that is far more ideological, candidate centered, and captive to interest groups, the changing character and enhanced importance of the media, the mounting costs of campaigns, the contradictions in public attitudes toward political leaders and processes, the causes and consequences of public misconceptions of democratic politics, and the need for reform in campaign finance, media practices, and civic education.
Joseph Cooper is professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University and served as the University's Provost from 1991-1996. He has previously taught at Rice University, Stanford University, and Harvard University. He has held fellowships from the Brookings Institution and the National Endowment for the Humanities and has testified before congressional committees numerous times on issues relating to American political institutions.