#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.