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Polling shows that since the 1950s Americans’ trust in government has fallen dramatically to historically low levels. In At War with Government, the political scientists Amy Fried and Douglas B. Harris reveal that this trend is no accident. Although distrust of authority is deeply rooted in American culture, it is fueled by conservative elites who benefit from it. Since the postwar era conservative leaders have deliberately and strategically undermined faith in the political system for partisan aims.
Fried and Harris detail how conservatives have sown distrust to build organizations, win elections, shift power toward institutions that they control, and secure policy victories. They trace this strategy from the Nixon and Reagan years through Gingrich’s Contract with America, the Tea Party, and Donald Trump’s rise and presidency. Conservatives have promoted a political identity opposed to domestic state action, used racial messages to undermine unity, and cultivated cynicism to build and bolster coalitions. Once in power, they have defunded public services unless they help their constituencies and rolled back regulations, perversely proving the failure of government. Fried and Harris draw on archival sources to document how conservative elites have strategized behind the scenes. With a powerful diagnosis of our polarized era, At War with Government also proposes how we might rebuild trust in government by countering the strategies conservatives have used to weaken it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amy Fried is John Mitchell Nickerson Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. She is the author of Muffled Echoes: Oliver North and the Politics of Public Opinion (Columbia, 1997) and Pathways to Polling: Crisis, Cooperation, and the Making of Public Opinion Professions (2012).
Douglas B. Harris is professor of political science at Loyola University Maryland. He is coauthor of Choosing the Leader: Leadership Elections in the U.S. House of Representatives (2019) and The Austin-Boston Connection: Fifty Years of House Democratic Leadership (2009) and coeditor of Doing Archival Research in Political Science (2012).
"At War with Government advances the idea that Americans’ distrust in government has not been the byproduct of various sociodemographic developments. On the contrary, this distrust has been developed strategically by Republican politicians and their allies in the media ecosystem. Scholars of American political development and historians of American politics will find great value in this book."
--Steven Webster, author of American Rage: How Anger Shapes Our Politics