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At War with Government

How Conservatives Weaponized Distrust from Goldwater to Trump

Amy Fried Douglas B. Harris



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Columbia University Press
03 August 2021
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.
By:   ,
Imprint:   Columbia University Press
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 229mm,  Width: 152mm, 
ISBN:   9780231195201
ISBN 10:   0231195206
Pages:   320
Publication Date:  
Audience:   Professional and scholarly ,  Undergraduate
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active
Acknowledgments 1. Weaponizing Distrust 2. Trust and Distrust in American Political Development 3. Here to Help? Movement Conservatism and the State in the Reagan Era 4. A Revolution Against Government? The Promotion of Distrust in the Clinton Era 5. We're All Mad Here : The Tea Party and the Obama Era 6. Punch Government in the Face : Anger in the Trump Era 7. Making Peace with Government Afterword Notes Index

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, 1937-1989 (2009) and coeditor of Doing Archival Research in Political Science (2012).

Reviews for At War with Government: How Conservatives Weaponized Distrust from Goldwater to Trump

'Distrust in government' is usually treated as an inexorable expression of public opinion, but this brilliant book takes a fresh approach. At War with Government offers a compelling analysis of current U.S. political travails and looks to a brighter future by spelling out a roadmap for citizen activists and public servants who aspire to rebuild faith in democratic government as an agent of the common good. -- Theda Skocpol, coeditor of <i>Upending American Politics: Polarizing Parties, Ideological Elites, and Citizen Activists from the Tea Party to the Anti-Trump Resistance</i> Distrust of government has become a key theme in American politics and its significance has only grown in recent years. In this important work, Amy Fried and Douglas Harris shed light on the origins of this distrust and how it is strategically promoted for partisan and ideological purposes. Anyone interested in the interplay between contemporary politics and policymaking needs to understand these dynamics, and At War With Government provides a crucial framework for making sense of it. -- Matthew Yglesias, author of <i>Slow Boring</i> and host of <i>The Weeds</i> In At War with Government, Amy Fried and Doug Harris systematically explore how the age-old tension between trust and distrust in government has been exploited by Republicans and their allies to promote disunity for naked political power. It is a powerful roadmap to navigating through today's dysfunction. -- Norman Ornstein, coauthor of <i>It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism</i> 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 <i>American Rage: How Anger Shapes Our Politics</i> Americans' trust in government has been plummeting for decades, and not by accident. In this powerful and crucially important book, Amy Fried and Douglas B. Harris show how conservatives, over several decades, strategically cultivated political distrust and built a movement around it. Distrust has now taken on a life of its own, undermining the collective power required to address public problems. As politicians tap it to fuel grievances, it is proving deleterious to democratic governance itself. A must-read for those who seek to rebuild our torn political and social fabric. -- Suzanne Mettler, author of <i>Four Threats: The Recurring Crises of American Democracies</i>

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