Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Trust Has Collapsed In America

theatlantic |  “The lifeblood of democracy is a common understanding of the facts and information that we can then use as a basis for negotiation and for compromise,” said Bersoff. “When that goes away, the whole foundation of democracy gets shaken.”

“This is a global, not an American issue,” Edelman told me. “And it’s undermining confidence in all the other institutions because if you don’t have an agreed set of facts, then it’s really hard to judge whether the prime minister is good or bad, or a company is good or bad.” A recent Pew Research Center poll, in fact, found across dozens of countries that satisfaction with the news media was typically highest in countries where trust in government and positive views of the economy were highest, though it didn’t investigate how these factors were related to one another.

America actually falls in the middle of surveyed countries in terms of trust in the media, which emerges from the Edelman poll as the least-trusted institution globally of the four under consideration. (In the United States, the firm finds, Donald Trump voters are over two times more likely than Hillary Clinton voters to distrust the media.) Nearly 70 percent of respondents globally were concerned about “fake news” being used as a weapon and 63 percent said they weren’t sure how to tell good journalism from rumor or falsehoods. Most respondents agreed that the media was too focused on attracting large audiences, breaking news, and supporting a particular political ideology rather than informing the public with accurate reporting. While trust in journalism actually increased a bit in Edelman’s survey this year, trust in search and social-media platforms dipped. 

In last year’s survey, the perspective that many respondents expressed was “‘I’m not sure about the future of my job because of robots or globalization. I’m not sure about my community anymore because there are a lot of new people coming in. I’m not sure about my economic future; in fact, it looks fairly dim because I’m downwardly mobile,’” Edelman said. These sentiments found expression in the success of populist politicians in the United States and Europe, who promised a return to past certainties. Now, this year, truth itself seems more uncertain.

“We’re desperately looking for land,” Edelman observed. “We’re flailing, and people can’t quite get a sense of reality.” It’s no way to live, let alone sustain a democracy.