As the brutal battle over Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination continues, I’m hoping that many Americans can take a step back and avoid the partisan tribalism on display.
I am hoping, but I’m not delusional.
Regardless of the merits surrounding arguments on either side about Kavanaugh’s behavior – as a teenager and now as a judge – rational thought has been lost in the lead-up to the Senate vote. The endless references to what amounts to improper conduct between the ages of, say, 16 and 22, is rather interesting in this highly charged atmosphere of partisan fury.
Angry Republicans and Democrats, in the Senate and across the nation, are acting like rabid college football fans during a game featuring a major rivalry. As the game proceeds, the two sides can’t possibly see eye to eye. Even video evidence in the form of a slow-motion replay does nothing but further divide the crowd on whether a referee’s call was correct, and whose team was maligned.
In the political arena, which now factors in tens of millions of Americans engaged in emotional warfare on Facebook and Twitter daily, much of the public is blinded by partisan loyalties, immune to facts, and incapable of appreciating nuance.
It seems that virtually no one in America engages in “pros and cons” in any national argument anymore. GOP Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona had a telling comment on Sunday’s “60 Minutes” broadcast when asked about his successful effort to broker a modest compromise – conducting a new FBI investigation of Kavanaugh before the Senate vote is taken.
The senator was asked, given all the partisan fireworks on display, if he would have made such a move if he was not retiring and instead seeking re-election in November. His immediate response: “Not a chance.” Let that sink in for a moment. Elected officials are expected to demonstrate undying loyalty to their party, their team, or suffer the consequences.
I’m hoping the FBI investigation will put all this animosity to rest. But, again, my hopes are not a reflection of delusion.
To understand just how insanely polarized our country has become, take a look at the wild swings in Gallup polling from 2000-18, as demonstrated in the chart below.
The tribalism, starting with the Bill Clinton impeachment process and the 2000 Supreme Court ruling on the Florida recount that awarded the presidency to George W. Bush, is rather embarrassing for the world’s greatest democracy. This goes well beyond bickering about grievances.
After the 2000 election, Gallup surveys showed that Democrats’ trust in the federal government’s executive branch, from the White House on down, went from 85 percent to 40 percent among Democrats. Among the GOP faithful, the turnaround went from 43 percent to 92 percent.
Keep in mind that these polling questions reference the executive branch overall, not just the president or the approximately 500 federal appointments he makes upon taking office. The questioning refers to a vast executive branch consisting of hundreds of departments and agencies and roughly 2 million federal employees, most of whom have served the government through various presidential administrations.
So, public views on the executive branch shifted dramatically in the changeover from Clinton to Bush, based almost entirely on partisan thinking. But the same craziness happened with the 2009 evolution from Bush to Barack Obama.
At that time, Republicans expressing trust in the executive branch flipped from 77 percent to 27 percent while Dem support for the executive branch skyrocketed from 15 percent to 92 percent.
When President Trump won the 2016 election the tables turned dramatically again in the minds of the American electorate. The Democrats turned on a dime from 84 percent trust in the executive branch down to just 8 percent in the most recent Gallup poll. The GOP flip-flopped from 18 percent to 81 percent.
Meanwhile, the polling among all adults, including the wide swath of independent voters across America, demonstrated results that remained comparatively steady, without the irrational deviations based on the current occupant of the Oval Office.
Amid all the upheaval since Trump took office in January 2017, Gallup found that trust in the executive branch is at 8 percent among the Dems, 81 percent within the GOP and, right in the middle, is the public overall at 42 percent.