Stephen M. Griffin recently penned an entry for Balkinization about his new book, “Broken Trust: Dysfunctional Government and Constitutional Reform,” which argues for constitutional reform as opposed to dysfunctional government and flawed constitutional order. As Josh Chafetz, author of “Democracy’s Privileged Few” states, “…this lively and important new book…argues that many of the problems stem from our constitutional structure and that the answer lies in adapting certain state-level constitutional innovations to the federal government.” Mark A. Graber continues, “Stephen Griffin has written the contemporary counterpart to Madison’s ‘Vices of the Political System of the United States.’ His acute diagnosis of the political ills afflicting American constitutional politics, their causes, and their cures is as vital to continued American constitutional development as Madison’s observations were in 1787.”
In our Constitutional Thinking series we publish books that ask important and sometimes uncomfortable questions about our Constitution. In “Broken Trust: Dysfunctional Government and Constitutional Reform,” Stephen M. Griffin asks whether the low levels of trust in our government can be tied to weaknesses in our Constitution. Most of us think that our Constitution is virtually holy writ. While it creates the structure for the protection of a wide range of rights and liberties, it also establishes a system of government that seems designed to generate political conflict. Griffin points us to the considerable body of research that shows that this is precisely what Americans don’t like about government and politics. They object to the give and take of politics, the involvement of interest groups and parties, and the inevitable compromises that happen as those who seek to make government work navigate the many aspects of the system that make it easier to frustrate action. So what if the distrust Americans feel for their government is the result of the way our government is structured? He shows that constitutional changes has been one way that states have sought to overcome cynicism about politics. He asks us to look at constitutional innovation at the state level where processes such as direct democracy have been adopted in order to give voters a way to circumvent institutions (such as legislatures) that they feel are hopelessly corrupt and ineffective. Do we need to amend the Constitution in order to make it more responsive to citizens and increase their confidence in government? We might look at innovation at the state level for ways to rethink our national system of governance.
–Written by Chuck Myers, Director of University Press of Kansas