Why the US public hates politics

Trust for the US government is at a record low, 22 per cent, as some see government as a threat to personal freedoms.

    86 per cent of students in a poll said that it was easier to volunteer in their community than in politics [GALLO/GETTY]

    New York: Everyone in the media business knows about the dangers of overexposure. Politicians who are in our faces constantly tend to loose their popular allure. It happened to George Bush and it is happening to Barack Obama.

    The more the President is out there, the more he becomes part of the landscape. The back and forth of intense partisan politics becomes background noise characterised by repetitive slogans and predictable putdowns. Public interest slowly goes from a turn-on to a tune-out.

    As the public tunes out, a new poll, reported by National Public Radio, finds a record low in public trust in government:

    “Americans' trust in government and its institutions have plummeted to a near-historic low, according to a sobering new survey by the Pew Research Center.

    Only 22 per cent of Americans surveyed by Pew say they can trust government in Washington "almost always or most of the time" - among the lowest measures in the half-century since pollsters have been asking the question.

    And an increasing number - almost one of every three people - say they believe government is a major threat to their personal freedoms and want federal power reined in.

    Pew asked people to say whether they were content, frustrated or angry with the federal government - and 3 of every 4 people said they were either frustrated or angry.”

    Why is this happening? The collapsing economy has played a role, and the frequently echoed slogans by Republicans and the Tea Party have eroded confidence.

    As Washington cuts programs, as its wars turn into losers, its not surprising that the disconnect between the public and the government grows wider.

    The Pews Center’s Director Andrew Kohut characterises a perfect storm of conditions including a backlash against Washington partisanship and "epic discontent" with elected officials that found fuel in this year's bitter health care debate.”

    The attacks on so-called Obamacare, often exaggerated and hysterical, have convinced people that their own health care is at risk, reinforcing a lack of concern with the uninsured.  A repetitive assault unaccompanied by a factual clarification by news channels that hate details because they consume time add to confusion and the acceptance of wild charges and unverified claims. This feeds the ability of a well-funded determined minority to twist facts and reinforce a false impression through calculated repetition.

    The private health care companies that have raised their rates adds to the disgust that is then blamed on the government that has been trying - not hard enough - to lower rates.

    Few criticise these companies perhaps because they have no symbolic leader or “bad guy,” and at the same time, spend millions on ads and direct mail convincing customers that they are serving their interests.

    And now the Supreme Court, dominated as it is by conservatives, and known for biased rulings, is being asked to sort it all out. 

    Goodbye Health Care Reform

    The political climate is increasingly characterised by a hostility to politics itself, based, no doubt on the failure of the political elite and the legislative process to be perceived as championing the needs of ordinary people, especially the unemployed and growing ranks of the poor.

    And this is true of youth even as young people take to the streets in New York in the Wall Street “occupation.”  They expected 20,000 but only a few thousand have answered the call so far.

    The Harvard School of Education took a poll that found while many students engage in community service, far fewer lean to politics. Why?

    Is the educational system that encourages service over active engagement or the media, including Hollywood, that does not promote it.

    Here are their findings:

    Attitudes Toward Politics and Public Service: A National Survey of College Undergraduates

    Why not politics? Community volunteerism is high, but political involvement is low among college students.

    60 per cent of college students are or have been involved in community service during the past year.    

    16 per cent have joined a government, political, or issues related organisation.

    7 per cent have volunteered or plan to volunteer in a political campaign.

    College students are disillusioned about and disconnected from the political system.

    64 per cent do not trust the federal government to do the right thing all or most of the time.

    74 per cent of college students believe that politicians are motivated by selfish reasons.

    87 per cent say they need more practical information about politics before they get involved.

    86 per cent of students agree that volunteering in the community is easier than volunteering in politics.

    97 per cent believe "enjoyment of activity" is an effective factor in motivating them. But only 7 per cent strongly agree that "political activity is enjoyable," while 46 percent somewhat agree and 44 per cent disagree.

    College students are seeking new ways to solve local and national problems.

    85 per cent prefer community volunteerism to political engagement as the better way to solve important issues facing their communities.

    60 per cent of students prefer community volunteerism to political engagement as the better way to solve important issues facing the country

    In Depth

    More from Danny Schechter:

      Behind the scenes of #OccupyWallStreet
      Has the UN been designed to fail?
      9/11 New York: Ten years on
      The great American political circus
      When the irrational is considered rational

    This data does not auger well for a revival of a mass political movement, despite the availability of so many diverse websites. We have a culture that runs at hyper speed with fads constantly coming and going. Buzz drives the national conversation and in that sense, the media is the most powerful depoliticizing institution we have. ‘

    Here today, gone tomorrow is its response to news that flashes in and out of our awareness. Follow-up, context and background is not its strength.

    The enthusiasm for the president, for example, went from worship and expectation to disillusionment and dislike. Young people

    who place a premium on authenticity turned cynical when Obama succumbed, willingly or not, to the pressures of powerful interest groups. He lost his outside allure as he turned into the ultimate wheeling and dealing insider.

    When expectations are dashed, followers dash away. What was “cool” one day, becomes most uncool the next.

    Oddly enough, TV comedians like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert contribute to this drift because they are in the attitude business, not the information business. By turning everything into a joke, their entertaining shticks do not encourage passionate engagement.

    They also show how mindless and insincere most politicians are by selective use of sound bites and news clips. They do the same to the news media.

    Both institutions deserve the satire and debunking but this fast-paced approach works to erode trust and teach us we have to respond to events as individuals, not groups.

    As mirth replaces outrage, yuks displace chants!

    Who can you trust?

    News Dissector and blogger Danny Schechter called for protests in his film Plunder: The Crime Of Our Time, exposing financial crimes on Wall Street. Comments to dissector@mediachannel.org

    The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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