A recent Gallup poll listed the most- and least-trusted professions in America. At the bottom of the list: car salesmen and members of Congress. It’s not hard to understand why our politicians rate so poorly — scandals, myopia, obstinance, party loyalty over common good, fiscal cliffs. All have left voters exasperated and confused. But while confidence in our elected leaders has never been lower, we cling to the belief that democracies represent the epitome of societal and political organization. Why?
With his provocative new book, In Mistrust We Trust: Can Democracy Survive When We Don’t Trust Our Leaders?, political commentator Ivan Krastev explores this incongruity between our political head and heart. There has been a profound decline of the public’s trust in the performance of public institutions, he notes, which is an outcome of the voters’ sense of their lost power. Tech tools may help provide some openness to the machinations of the political machine, but they may just be putting a Band-Aid on an open wound. Ultimately, Krastev ponders whether we can enjoy the many rights of our society without enjoying real political choice or power.At TEDGlobal 2012, Krastev sounded a warning bell about what he calls a “crisis in democracy” and charted how, over the past 50 years, feelings of trust in the efficacy of democracy has eroded. (This blog piece shows just how bad distrust has gotten around the globe.) As Krastev explains, five cultural revolutions — the counterculture movement of the 1960s, the market revolution of the 1980s, the end of communism, the birth of the internet and the growth of neuroscience — have greatly influenced our experience of freedom. But at the same time, these revolutions fractured collective purpose, created inequality, made us skeptical of those in power, and left us feeling ineffective in creating change. As Krastev says, “What went right is also what went wrong.”
His new TED Book looks at where to go from here. His bold question: can democracy survive?