Book

Democracy and Dysfunction

Cover of the book titled "Democracy and Dysfunction."

Jack M. Balkin, the Knight Professor of Constitutional Law and the First Amendment, and Sanford Levinson, the W. St. John Garwood and W. St. John Garwood Jr. Centennial Chair in Law at the University of Texas Law School

(The University of Chicago Press)

In this book, the authors contend that it is no longer controversial that the American political system has become deeply dysfunctional. Today, only slightly more than a quarter of Americans believe the country is heading in the right direction, while 63% believe it is on a downward slope. The top 20 words used to describe the past year include “chaotic,” “turbulent,” and “disastrous.” Donald Trump’s improbable rise to power and his 2016 Electoral College victory placed America’s political dysfunction in an especially troubling light, the authors believe, but given the extreme polarization of contemporary politics, the outlook would have been grim even if Hillary Clinton had won. The greatest upset in American presidential history is only a symptom of deeper problems of political culture and constitutional design.

Democracy and Dysfunction” brings together two leading constitutional law scholars in a conversation that seeks to uncover the underlying causes of the current crisis and their meaning for American democracy. In a series of letters exchanged over a period of two years, Levinson and Balkin travel through the convulsions of the 2016 election and Trump’s first year in office. They disagree about the scope of the crisis and the remedy required. Levinson believes that the Constitution is fundamentally defective and argues for a new constitutional convention, while Balkin, who believes we are suffering from constitutional rot, argues that there are less radical solutions.

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