Just finished reading a great book by Sheila Suess Kennedy called “Distrust American Style” (full disclosure: The author is well known to readers of this blog and to me as “Mom”). In it, Kennedy discusses widely held beliefs and recent studies that seem to show that increasing amounts of diversity within a culture are correlated with increasing amounts of distrust within that culture or those communities. As correlation is not causation, Kennedy clearly lays out a case for the causes of that distrust. Ultimately that distrust comes from a lack of trust in our collective institutions, caused by years of abuses of power and ineptitude within those institutions. Kennedy sees the lack of trust as a logical and self protective result of these abuses, and argues powerfully for ways to restore that trust. Especially fascinating are the sections that deal with the founding of this nation, and the attempts to limit the power and potential for abuses by government by carefully constructed checks and balances. Kennedy discusses at length how these arose from the Enlightenment and how they were an effort (having just broken free of a monarchy) to limit the power of the state over free citizens. By carefully insuring that no one branch had absolute power, the Founders were hoping to insulate the populace as much as possible from the abuses of potentially flawed or power hungry office holders. That is why the shift of power during the Bush years to the Executive Branch was so corrosive to trust in our governing institutions. These shifts allowed power and lawlessness to be concentrated at the highest levels, and led to serious abuses. It is for precisely this reason that even though I love most of what president Obama is doing in office, the one area that concerns me is in his administration’s defense of some of the executive privileges claimed by the Bush administration. It matters not who wields this power, it should be curtailed to prevent abuse by anyone. Kennedy understands that in order to trust in our governing institutions and the power they wield, we have to be able to trust in their basic fairness and application. Her proposals (at the end of the book) for improving this trust are sensible and in my opinion, necessary.
And on a personal note: Good job, Mom!