Ethics Observations On Pew’s “17 Striking Findings From 2017”

#1Partisan divides dwarf demographic differences on key political values. The average gap between the views of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents and Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents across 10 political values has increased from 15 percentage points in 1994 to 36 points today. Two decades ago, the average partisan differences on these items were only slightly wider than differences by religious attendance or educational attainment, and about as wide as differences across racial lines. Today, the partisan gaps far exceed differences across other key demographics.

I attribute this ominous development to both parties crossing previously observed lines of appropriate political tactics and rhetoric, picking at the seams that hold our society and democracy together. The GOP-advanced Whitewater investigation of the Clintons’ financial shenanigans began the criminalization of politics. President Clinton’s arrogance and recklessness as a sexual predator placed Democrats in the position of defending unethical conduct especially repugnant to conservatives, and the furious (and dishonest) efforts of both Clinton and Democrats to deny the legitimacy of his impeachment drove the parties further apart.

The essentially tied election of 2000 came at the worst possible time, but Democrats made its wounds to public comity worse that they had to be by using the false claim that the election was “stolen” to energize its base for years. The rise of hyper-partisan leaders in the House and Senate—Gingrich, Pelosi, McConnell, and worst of all, Harry Reid—continued to poison discourse.  The Iraq War fiasco, a Republican mistake, and the false Democratic mantra “Bush lied…” in response to it exacerbated the divide. Then the bi-partisan botches that led to the 2008 crash were widely attributed only to Republicans. Spurred by the prospect of a black President, the news media, always heavily tilted leftward, abandoned large portions of its ethical values to be an unapologetic cheerleader for the Democratic candidate, because having a black President elected would be so darn wonderful for everybody. Thus did the media fully embrace “the ends justifies the means” as an operating principle/

The inevitable racist response of a minority—but a vocal one—in conservative and Republican circles to the prospect of a black President caused further division, and Obama’s alliance with an openly racist Reverend Wright caused more racial polarization. Once elected, President Obama could have healed much of the damage since 1994 (as he promised to do) , but instead he chose to leverage divisions among races, genders, ages, classes, gays and straights, and legal and illegal immigrants for political advantage. His supporters, meanwhile, including those in the news media, began using accusations of racism to smother and inhibit legitimate criticism. Obama broke with Presidential tradition by repeatedly blaming his predecessor for problems he proved unable to solve, keeping partisan resentment hot.

Even with all of this, Obama could have healed much of the accumulated partisan antipathy if he had been an effective leader. He wasn’t. In contrast to his predecessor he was an effective (though over-praised) communicator,and in marked contrast to the current POTUS, he played the part beautifully, and that’s not inconsequential. The rest, however, was an ugly combination of misplaced priorities, incompetence, laziness, racial bias and posturing, with awful results. This hastened the divide, because Obama’s core base, the African American community, was inclined to view him uncritically no matter what he did. As other groups called out the President on his failings, that group’s loyalty and bias drove it, and allied groups, into defensive, knee-jerk ideological opposition, as the growing power of social media exacerbated hostility between the ideological polls.

Obama’s divisive administration, rhetoric and poor governing habits begat Donald Trump.

And here we are.

None of this was inevitable; a lot was bad luck. Even more, however, was caused by irresponsible leaders who chose short term political gain over the health and strength of the nation. Shame on all of them.

#2 Donald Trump’s presidency has had a major impact on how the world sees the United States. A global median of just 22% have confidence in Trump to do the right thing when it comes to international affairs, according to a survey conducted last spring. The image of the U.S. abroad also suffered a decline: Just 49% have a favorable view, down from 64% at the end of Barack Obama’s presidency.

Duh. The President is always the symbol of the U.S. abroad, and close to 95% of the reporting by this President’s own journalists have been representing him as negatively as possible, often to a cartoonish and exaggerated extent, all year long. Of course this has an impact on world opinion. Trashing our own leader is as close to cutting off your nose to spite your face as I have ever seen in U.S. history. Trump would not be popular abroad anyway, thanks to his tweets, his boorishness, and his flamboyant embodiment of almost every negative stereotype of Americans there is. Nonetheless, the news media’s bias has turned a problem into a crisis, and he never had a chance, as Pew’s #11 suggests:

#11 News stories about President Trump’s first 60 days in office offered far more negative assessments than they did of prior administrations. About six-in-ten stories on Trump’s early days in office had a negative assessment, about three times more than in early coverage for Obama and roughly twice that of Bush and Clinton. Coverage of Trump’s early time in office moved further away from a focus on the policy agenda and more toward character and leadership.

There are good reasons to give new Presidents a “honeymoon period.”

#4 Democrats and Republicans disagree now more than ever on the news media’s “watchdog” role. Roughly nine-in-ten Democrats say news media criticism keeps political leaders from doing things that shouldn’t be done, compared with 42% of Republicans ­who say this – the widest gap in Pew Research Center surveys conducted since 1985. This stands in stark contrast to early 2016, when similar shares of Democrats (74%) and Republicans (77%) supported the media’s watchdog role.

Wow! That one is a surprise. I am amazed that Democrats and Republicans roughly agreed in early 2016, especially after most of the news media adamantly refused to play “watchdog” under Obama. Maybe Republicans were referring to Fox News?  I don’t trust that finding, frankly. Here is the accompanying chart:

However, I am not surprised that the disgracefully biased performance of the news media during 2016 and after made conservatives and Republicans give up on the media as untrustworthy and a tool of the powerful, not a restraint. The fact that 89% of Democrats would accept the stunningly unprofessional performance of the news media as just peachy—because it served their own biases and political agendas—is extremely depressing. They like having a thumb on the scales, as long as it’s to their advantage. Got it.


#9 The share of Republicans who hold negative views of the effect of colleges and universities on the country has grown significantly since 2015. Nearly six-in-ten Republicans and Republican leaners (58%) now say colleges have a negative effect. Two years ago, by contrast, 54% of Republicans said colleges were having a positive effect. Democrats and Democratic leaners have consistently held positive views of the effect of colleges on the U.S.; 72% of Democrats and Democratic leaners say this today.

My analysis here is similar to #4. How can anything but willful ignorance, denial and bias possibly explain anyone thinking today’s colleges and universities do not do more harm than good? The lack of ideological diversity on campus is another major factor in the partisan divide. Tuition is too expensive. Anti-American beliefs are taught and encouraged. Racial and gender victim-mongering are nurtured. Many schools have abandoned core ethical principles, like due process. Sports trump academics. Political correctness is suffocating academic freedom. Free speech is under attack.

College continues to be romanticized in America; I guess that’s part of what’s going on. We ignore the reality for the nostalgic olden glow of the ideal, at least when higher education is indoctrinating the young in our political philosophies.

You can read the whole report here.


19 thoughts on “Ethics Observations On Pew’s “17 Striking Findings From 2017”

  1. It would be interesting to see how much this current division compares to antebellum America or independence versus loyalists prior to the revolution. It might illuminate our proximity to the abyss. Without the desired historical context, it feels like we are too close for comfort.

  2. Jack, you say, “None of this was inevitable,” but I tend to think differently.

    Politics in a democratic voting system inevitably becomes a game of who’s-the-outsider-(BOO!)-versus-who’s-most-in-touch-with-the-most-people-(YAY!). Take that, along with the inevitable pluralism of a large, immigration-fed, age-, ethnicity-, and occupation-diverse population across a large continent; add the human-nature component of “political leadership” in what is now a centuries-old governance structure (which is to say, a political class eventually forms that is quite insular and elitist, viciously competitive within itself, and even more viciously dismissive and resistant to having itself imposed upon by any outsiders); then add the resultant imperative to build coalitions that stick together in order to sustain electability (and re-electability), and it becomes impossible for the most “in-touch” candidates to do anything but preach (and, once elected, rule) in the most polarizing ways.

      • 2nd try…

        It suggests ONLY a possibility that it could have been delayed. But that possibility is moot now – it’s as if it never existed. The onset and aggravation of polarization has merely been accelerated and made more irreconcilable by persons’ (and groups’) use (and misuse) of “tools” (such as government, education, and mass media) that formerly enabled, or at least enabled a more widely accepted appearance of, “a more perfect union.” Combine heightened per capita consciousness of self-interest with strengthened incentives for each individual to advance self-interest via identification with highly specific, narrowly focused, energetic interest groups…

        …and what do we get? A kind of jungle of savage tribal competition for recognition, resources, and power. A rampant, epidemic mindset of, “Whatever I gain, MUST be a consequence of someone else losing something that…well…if they lose it, then they don’t deserve it and never should have possessed or claimed it, anyway, and if I gain it, then I’m entitled to it.” Cycles, or seasons, of what I call the (unattenuated) grudge tides of history thus roll on forever.

        Jack, I ache with you, in frustration at the human’s mastery of so much environmental nature while continually failing to achieve – or to even be interested in achieving – mastery of the species’ internal nature. Our society may very well be saturated with, permanently plagued by, flawed “control freaks” – masters at controlling their environment, but woefully lacking in self-control. I suspect our country has been that way since the first Europeans landed.

        • Human nature does not change… and recent innovations like the Internet and Social Media have cemented that into immovable bedrock. The once ‘local’ asshole can now be heard from the far reaches of the globe!

          Where did Hillary hide that ‘reset’ button? We may need that soon.

      • But it didn’t endure and thrive up untill O’bama became president! (at least that is why, I think, you chose the 1990’s.) In fact the original constitution was a failure that resulted in a civil war over slavery and the Union and it’s constitution was only preserved by force of arms.

        • 1. I didn’t choose the 1990s. What does Obama have to do with the 1990s? Pew tracked the partisan divide from the the 1990s, and hyperpartisanship began with Clinton.

          2. How do you blame the Constitution for the Civil War? And what’s “the original Constitution”? We still have the same Constitution. It has been an epic and unprecedented success.

          3. The Constitution wasn’t preserved by force of arms. It could be argued that the Constitution was violated by the North in the Civil War.

          4. Wait—were you drunk when you wrote this?

    • Is it fair to say ethnic minorities posed no threat to the consistently centrist, traditional, pro-Americans of the recent past?

      But now, as America becomes less WASPy and less American born, by design or accident…legally or illegally, and most of higher education preaches about America’s constitution as an antiquated document and its history as largely shameful, can a centrist majority politically survive or sway the new Americans they should become more traditionally pro-American?

      Is it the stance of non-centrists to make hay or even political war using the emerging American populations to attack the constitution and traditional values? It often appears that way.

      • All challenging questions. I think it’s fair to say that ethnic demographics have changed drastically in comparison to those of 100 years ago. But it is less clear what is “centrism” today. Less clear what the demographics of “centrism” are in the country today, and unclear how ethnic populations define and influence whatever might be today’s political “center.” I do have doubts that The People are able to constitute a “centrist majority.” The 9-11 attacks seemed to create something like that – but how long did it hold together? A few years? A few months?

  3. Too many political science majors who become political consultants for too many politicians who are willing to spout paid for talking points to get elected and stay elected.

    Everybody in the rest of the world thinks they get a vote in US presidential elections. They don’t. Who cares what they think? As an expat friend says, “Everyone [in her case Europe] likes to poke at the US because, unlike say, Russia [you know, the people who heat our homes and fuel our economy], everyone knows the US will never get angry and poke back.”

        • Does Pew conduct a similar survey to assess American attitudes toward these 37 countries?

          I wonder what the results might show if the queries measured which countries are the most anti-muslim, anti-christian, or anti-semitic.

          You can get the results you want by choosing questions that lead people down the path.

          • I think little could be gained from such a survey. Too many Americans cannot name the 50 states and point to them on a map, much less these little inconsequential countries.

            The most prevalent answer to such questions would be “Who is that? They have a country?”

            Sad, but that is how the low information voter rolls.

  4. Regarding Pews question as to whether the world believes Trump will do the “right” thing in international affairs depends on what you believe is the right thing. If you believe the right thing is for the American people to adopt a more socialist, open borders policy direction then it makes sense. The concept of “right” is subjective; right for whom I must ask.

    Secondly, the study queries attitudes among a relatively small number of nations when compared to all countries- only 37. Why were these picked. Based on the policy issues shown coupled with the media coverage I dont need Pew to measure the displeasure of Mexico and other Latin American countries toward the impetus to greater border protection.

    It should come as no surprise that pulling out of the Paris Climate accord, another policy measured in the survey, one that forces the US to subsidize economic growth in BRIC countries and others will be seen as unfavorable to the subsidized countries.

    Doing the right thing as President means doing what is in the long run interests of the American people. If Merkel, Hollande, and others focused on what is right for their countries then a reasonable global equilibrium can be reached. When other countries focus their efforts on making other countries do that which is in the national interest of another, both sides stand to lose favor among the citizens of the comparison nation.

    I remember the drastic decline in favorability of France among Americans when they chose to not commit forces to the international coalition to fight terrorism in 2003. They chose what was right for them. Only time will tell if their choice to support ending sanctions on Iran was the right decision.

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