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Abstract

In Democratic Trust and the Limits of Distrust in Democracy, I approach the current crisis of political trust from an analytical and constitutional perspective. Broadly, I argue that institutionalizing distrust in a democratic constitution threatens the maintenance of trust, which democracy requires to function well. I begin by outlining current political problems related to declining trust in the United States government—e.g., gridlock and hyperpolarization—as well as the ways that scholars have approached studying and responding to the decline in political trust. I suggest that are three underlying issues to research that must be addressed: 1. The focus on trust has given short shrift to the importance of understanding distrust. 2. It remains unclear what kind of trust is important for democracy amid a landscape of numerous and highly varied conceptions of trust. 3. Foundational issues that might have an effect on trust and distrust have been unexamined, in favor of more easily quantifiable and measurable linkages like scandals, the economy, and perceptions of government performance. The rest of the dissertation addresses these problems in turn. I argue in The Limits of Distrust that the widely accepted creation and use of mechanisms of distrust, like egoistically competitive, territorial-, and ambition-motivated systems of checks and balances, should be limited in democracy. I show how these institutionalizations of distrust can be the starting ground for a vicious cycle of distrust that stymies the development and maintenance of trust. In the third chapter, I establish parameters for democratic trust. Democratic trust is tailored to the philosophic underpinnings and practical demands of democracy. Democratic trust refers only to the sharing and transfer of political power and combines the attitudes and behaviors of moralistic conceptions of trust with a cooperative mode of vigilance. The addition of a cooperative mode of vigilance avoids the problems of distrust while mitigating the riskiness of trust. Other parameters also tailor democratic trust to democracy, but the most important ones are these. Finally, through an analysis of The Federalist, I argue that the Constitution of the United States of America relies heavily on problematic distrust, threatening the long-term cultivation of trust necessary to sustain a functioning democracy. I suggest that when creating or revising democratic constitutions, it would be prudent to consider whether and how the shape of government might foster and maintain democratic trust and avoid institutionalizing distrust.

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