Gallup’s polls show who we trust, pointing to a dark future for our Republic

Summary: A tottering Republic, tough times ahead, a weak and fearful people who respect the military and police more than their elected officials.  Here we look at #3 in this ugly hat trick. The New America now emerging might look like the Founder’s worst nightmare.  We can prevent this if we act soon.

My vote for our new national motto


  1. Description of the problem
  2. Solutions
  3. Other chapters in this series
  4. Should we hope for change from the election?

(1) Description of the problem

Tough times might lie ahead for us, and for our Republic.  In this future who might we turn to? Who will we trust? Let’s look for clues in the Gallup Confidence in Institutions poll, conducted annually since 1973 (categories vary over time).

Average percent of people saying they have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in each institution:

Years Military Court Congress President Police Medical Criminal Justice Syst
2010 – 2012 76% 37% 12% 36% 57% 40% 28%
2000 – 2009 74% 43% 22% 43% 59% 39% 26%
1990 – 1999 68% 46% 23% 46% 57% 39% 20%
1980 – 1989 58% 50% 33%
1973 – 1979 56% 46% 39%



Michel de Nostradamus (1503–1566)

Our confidence in the military and criminal justice system has risen. Confidence has remained constant in the police and medical system. Our confidence in the President, Congress, and Courts has plummeted.

Gallup records a steep loss of confidence in other institutions:  church, public schools, newspapers, TV news, organized labor, banks, big business, and HMOs.

These results are appropriate for the nation ranked #1 in per cent of its population in prison,  fifth in the number of executions, glorifies its military beyond reason, that spends more than the rest of the world combined on foreign intelligence and the military — and for a fearful people (as our reaction to 9-11 proved).  A people with low confidence in their political institutions,  in themselves and in their ability to work together.

We love uniforms, and lavish funding our military and security services while our vital social and physical infrastructure decays.  We have pride in our militarized foreign policy. We’re becoming Prussia. Or perhaps like 1920’s Latin America.

We don’t need Nostradamus to warn us. When danger threatens, people turn the reins over to those institutions that they trust.  Democracies have fallen throughout history from smaller weaknesses than ours.

(2)  Solutions

There are scores of discussions about solutions on the FM website. Most feature people wanting quick, easy fixes. A deus ex machina, such as passing laws, Constitutional amendments, or a new Convention. These all put the cart before the horse, assuming the most difficult parts of the problem: getting the American people arouse about the problem and willing to work for a solution.

We are the only force that can awaken America, to help us recover what we’ve lost — and become what we once were (not perfect or great, but better).  The only path to solution involves mobilization, such things as talking to each other and organizing.  The end of this seems to distant to see, and the odds of success seem uncertain — at best.  But  America has been a defiant contest against the odds throughout our history.  The challenge to keep the Republic has been given by our forefathers to us, and will be given (hopefully) by us to our children.

We’ve succeeded against the odds before, albeit with long years of toil.

In May 1764 Samuel Adams took his first steps to end British rule in America (see Wikipedia). That same year in Boston the first of the Committees of Correspondence was formed, one of the major tools of the revolution. A colony successfully revolting against the British Empire — something with few or no precedents in all of history! What odds would people like yourself have given them? The Revolution ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1783.  Nineteen years until victory.

In 1774 Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush founded America’s first anti-slavery society. They sought to end a practice that has been almost in history. What odds would people like yourself have given them? The Fourteenth Amendment was ratified in 1868, a century later. A century after that, the great Civil Rights legislation in the mid-1960s ended (or radically reduced) government-sponsored oppression of Blacks in America. It took 190 years of work until victory.

Some projects require a great deal of time and work. But they’re worth it.

(3)  Other Chapters in this series about the birth of the New America

  1. America is the new Rome. Late Republican Rome (not the best of times), 13 October 2011
  2. What will replace the Constitution in Americans’ hearts? Let’s check for Fascism., 29 March 2012
  3. A look at the future of the Republic: we will choose leaders that we trust, 14 May 2012
  4. A look at the future of the Republic: we will choose leaders that we trust, not the ones we need (part 2), 15 May 2012
  5. More evidence that the military is slowly cutting itself off from civilian control, 15 July 2012

(4)  What about the election? Should we hope for change?

Synchronized Campaign Swimming, Daryl Cagle, MSNBC, 12 August 2012

Daryl Cagle, MSNBC, 12 August 2012

18 thoughts on “Gallup’s polls show who we trust, pointing to a dark future for our Republic”

  1. Regarding respect for military rising, see Glen Greenwald’s article on new military reality show on NBC starring retired general Wesley Clark: “NBC’s war for fun and profit“, Salon, 13 August 2012 — “A new reality show of soldiers and celebrities playing war games showcases our national religion: military worship.”

    1. Agreed! That’s another powerful article by Glenn Greenwald about the militarization of our culture — another perspective on the trends described in this post — another aspect of the New America evolving right now.

  2. The most disturbing aspect to the present political situation in the U.S. is the way the Republicans have succeeded in undermining the electorial process. Electorial malfeasance in Florida in 2000 brought about the presidency of George W. Bush. Previous Republican presidents had paved the way for this debacle by packing the Supreme Court with conservatives. In this coming election at least two swing states, Florida and Ohio, are actively undermining the electorial process by policies deliberately designed to discourage voters likely to vote democratic from voting.

    The electoral process is further distorted by recent decisions by the Supreme Court allowing unlimited corporate contributions to political campaigns. Naturally the corporations will donate to candidates whom they preceive to favor their interests and their contributions overwhelm the contributions of private citizens. The U.S. has become an extreme example of a plutocracy. It’s a viscious cycle and I see no way to stop it.

    1. That’s an important point! Loss of political power is like a rock rolling down a hillside. As our elites gain power over us, they use that power to further tilt the system in their favor.

      That’s the normal order of things. Each generation must fight to retain self-rule, for their are always those seeking power.

    2. During a recent conversation with someone I haven’t seen in many years, I commented on the fact that the voter disenfranchisement campaign in Florida which (according to people such as Greg Palast) helped swing the 2000 election for Bush was carried out secretly. These days, the Republicans are no longer bothering to conceal these efforts…they’re being carried out in broad daylight right in front of people’s eyes, complete with news reports.

      1. That’s an incisive observation!

        Moving beyond the need for concealment displays the GOP’s power and confidence. Like The Romans not bothering to put a wall around their city, secure in the protection of their reputation and legions.

  3. FM,

    Often times you ask why Batman is such a powerful symbol in america; the antithesis of collective action. I recently watched Batman Begins again, and I think this quote from the movie explains why:

    “People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy and I can’t do that as Bruce Wayne, as a man I’m flesh and blood I can be ignored I can be destroyed but as a symbol, as a symbol I can be incorruptible, I can be everlasting.”

    Deep down inside we *know* we are apathetic. Hence the appeal. So the race is on for the dramatic character to rouse us from our apathy. Will it be a Hitler? Or a Caesar? Or a Jesus?

  4. TYPO: “They sought to end a practice that has been almost [???] in history.”

    ??? “ubiquitous” ???

  5. To add to SDW’s comment, I recommend the superb article by William S. Lind “America goes jousting: our splendid military is all for show”) at The American Conservative, an article which augments and extends the themes of Martin van Creveld’s seminal book The Transformation of War.

    I’ve been re-reading the classic article “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning” (Horst Rittel & Melvin Webber, Policy Sciences Vol. 4, 1973, pp. 155-169) and this article looms larger than ever because it seems to accurately define problems of public policy as “wicked problems” as opposed to what the authors call the “tame” problems of science and engineering.

    Rittel & Webber identify 10 characteristics of “wicked problems” which render them unsuitable to quasi-scientific or operations research-style solution:

    1. There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem. (…) The information needed to understand the problem depends on one’s idea for solving it.
    2. Wicked problems have no stopping rule. [i.e., unlike chess, the planner can never be sure with a wicked problem whether the problem has been adequately solved.]
    3. Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but good-or-bad.
    4. There is no immediate and no ultimate test of the solution of a wicked problem.
    5. Every solution to a wicked problem is a “one-shot operation”; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial-and-error, every attempt counts significantly.
    6. There are no criteria that enable one to prove that all solutions to a wicked problem have been identified and considered. It may happen that no solution is found, owing to logical inconsistencies in the “picture” of the problem.
    7. Every wicked problem is essentially unique.
    8. Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem.
    9. The existence of a discrepancy representing a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways. The choice of explanation determines the problem’s resolution.
    10. The planner has no right to be wrong. …The aim is not find the truth, but to improve some characteristics of the world where people live. Planners are liable for the consequences of the actions they generate; the effects can matter a great deal to those people that are touched by those actions.

    This sounds absolutely right for the thorny issues of social policy a modern highly industrialized economy. Perhaps Americans’ bent for clean neat scientific/engineering-style solutions to problems has caught up with them. Perhaps Americans have become impatient with the intractability of real-world social issues [*] and have simply decided to deny that the problems of public policy are meaningfully different in kind from engineering problems like how to build a skyscraper. It occurs to me that this might possibly be the root cause of America’s remarkably persistent failed OODA loop and our consequent choice to live in an imaginary la-la-land of fantasy in which cartoonish policies like “getting tough on crime” or “pre-emptive drone strikes on suspected insurgents” are preferred to rational sensible responses to our real-world problems. This might explain America’s idolization of our 2GW military, in which the same simple clean-cut solution to any problem always presents itself and the final answer: blow up the enemy and you win. Put enough fire on target and the problem is always solved.

    America’s 2GW “put fire on target” solutions prove much more satisfying than the antisolutions in other areas of American life, where putting more drug cops on the street and building more prisons and incarcerating more drug dealers increases the availability and lowers the price of drugs like crystal meth and cocaine; or antisolutions like throwing more money at poverty programs and building more giant Pruitt-Igoe housing projects, which makes poverty worse and more virulent.

    [*] I refer to real-world social issues like the continuing existence of an undereducated and impoverished American underclass despite massive improvements in standards of living and heroic expenditures on anti-poverty programs over the last 80 years. Or, for example, Americans’ perverse insistence on viewing economic and drug and law enforcement policy as a form of medieval morality play in which the only important point is to reward the virtuous and punish the wicked, rather than to rationally allot resources to reduce violent crime and temper economic inequality. Or, for example, the persistence of self-delusions like Peak Oil denial or the continuing Ayn Rand cult among elite American policymakers like Paul Ryan.

  6. Abu Muqawama: "US Needs Perspective, not Pedestal, for Military"

    US Needs Perspective, not Pedestal, for Military“, Andrew Exum (aka Abu Muqawama), World Politics Review, 15 August 2012 — Excerpt:

    The bad news is that American society as a whole has developed a dysfunctional relationship with its men and women in uniform. The relationship has grown into a bizarre form of hero-worship, where servicemen and women are considered to be some kind of über-citizen more deserving of rights than the average, nonserving citizen. Andrew Bacevich’s “The New American Militarism,” which might have seemed alarmist when it was published in 2005, looks prescient in 2012.

    On the one hand, it is good and right that a society lifts up those who put themselves in harm’s way to serve a greater good. But when it comes to the U.S. and its military, things have truly gotten out of hand. Able-bodied U.S. soldiers in prime physical condition now board airplanes in the United States before mothers with small children. Perhaps even worse, it seems that only veterans notice how ridiculous this is. The new G.I. Bill, passed by the Congress in 2009, makes the U.S. taxpayer responsible for the education of the sons and daughters of highly paid general officers, yet most citizens living in a new age of austerity do not ask why. And a member of the U.S. House of Representatives has even gone so far as to argue that military servicemen might deserve the right to vote more than the average citizen.

    This is obscene. And the absurdity of it all is thrown into stark relief when we compare things with the way we treat other public servants. …

  7. We seem to be edging closer to Robert Heinlein’s world of Starship Troopers where only military veterans were citizens.

    1. Minor quibble. If I correctly recall, in “Starship Trooper” anybody who served in the government got the vote, not just military service. The theory was that you shouldn’t get the vote unless you’d been willing to serve others. For obvious reasons, the book emphasized military service.

      Heinlein was a great author, especially because this book was intended for male teenagers in the late 1950’s, but he’d be the first to admit that not all of his ideas were good ones.

      1. Pluto,

        (1) See chapter 12 of Starship Troopers. The vote was given only to honorably discharged veterans. The system evolved after the “collapse of governments at the end of the XX century.” Most vets were from the “non-combatant auxiliary services — not subject to the full rigors of military discipline; they have merely been haried, overworked, and endangered.” Why vets?

        “Under our system every voter and officeholder is a man who has demonstrated through voluntary and difficult service that he places the welfare of the group ahead of personal advantage.”

        (2) “but he’d be the first to admit that not all of his ideas were good ones.”

        Heinlein considered his ideas good if they sold books. Don’t assume that believed the assumptions in each and every book, since they’re radically contradictory. He wrote Troopers in 1959. In 1961 he published Stranger in a Strange Land. Free love! Grok your enemies!

        In 1953 he wrote Revolt in 2100, about a revolution followed by a society run on technocratic principles. Lots of psychologists in key roles.

        His stories were great, IMO, because of their strong characters, powerful plots, and the imagination of the many worlds he created.

  8. Pingback: Gallup's polls show who we trust, pointing to a dark future for our Republic - Fabius Maximus (blog)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: