Thursday, September 21, 2017

Disciplining “Our Own”

     The wall of silence is breached. The media can no longer deny that the Obama Administration wiretapped Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential campaign, just as President Trump claimed in March. It’s been confirmed by testimony and by FISA records. The strident accusations, by CNN and others, that Trump’s claim was a lie have become platters of unseasoned crow that “journalists” must confront. But will they? And what about the Democrats who echoed those claims and linked them to accusations of Trump campaign collusion with the Russian government? Will they offer retractions and apologies?

     Not bloody likely, and I’m here to tell you why.

     We form affinity groups on various bases: race, religion, ethnicity, regional loyalties, occupations, political affiliations, and so on. Every group allegiance creates an Us and a Them, with a concomitant assignment of differing privileges and approvals. The results of the cleavage normally include a reluctance to entertain accusations against “our own” in a neutral, judicial fashion. The degree of protection awarded to “our own” varies inversely with the degree of civic trust awarded to members of the group by persons outside it.

     Civic trust is an under-addressed factor in studies of the stability of a social order. It pertains to the average willingness of individuals to regard other individuals whom they do not know personally as non-threatening. If that trust factor varies greatly according to differences in affinity group affiliation, the society is in trouble.

     Judgments of a neighborhood as “good” or “bad” measure its degree of civic trust. Are the residents generally regarded as responsible and law-abiding? Are local businesses respectful or exploitive of local needs and preferences? Is the constabulary responsive? Are the streets and other public spaces “safe?” These are the questions that underpin “good neighborhood” and “bad neighborhood” assessments.

     Civic trust plainly includes the sub-category of public trust: the degree of trust private citizens have in the honesty and competence of public officials and government generally. This also conditions social stability, in a determinate fashion. If generally high public trust should be impacted by a narrow revelation – for example, the discovery that a particular official has behaved corruptly – the reaction among private citizens will be swift and predictable: Get him out of office and put him behind bars. The man in the street will demand it out of his desire to defend the integrity of the relevant institution. Inversely, if public trust is low, the man in the street will shrug, say “What can you expect? They’re all thieves,” and retreat from the subject. His attention will be focused narrowly on his own agenda and the protection of what’s his, rather than the trustworthiness or lack thereof of public institutions.

     High civic trust enables wide-ranging attachments: patriotism, nationalism, national pride, public engagement. Low civic trust compels particularism: withdrawal from wide engagements and the narrowing of one’s attachments to those affinity groups he believes he can trust.

     When civic trust falls low and particular attachments become sufficiently strong, groups’ willingness to discipline their members for offenses against “outsiders” drops toward zero. The defense of Us against distrusted Them is seen as far too important to permit it.

     American political particularism is a reflection of the diminished degree of our civic trust, specifically in two institutions: partisan politics and the “news” media. Time was, politicians of different parties could work together on specific ends. That was possible because not only did they sincerely agree on the ends to be sought, but also because they trusted one another not to have covert agendas that differed radically from those ends. To the extent that politicians have ever been willing to acknowledge the Law of Unintended Consequences, the parties refrained from attacking one another when a policy championed by one in the face of misgivings by the other gave rise to a negative result. There was a prevailing belief that regardless of party affiliation, those in office meant well, generally understood their capacities and their limitations, and (with rare exceptions) really were doing the best they could for the nation. They made allowances for one another, and we made allowances for them.

     Time was.

     Ours is an era of low civic trust. Particularism is rampant; indeed, it’s probably the most important social influence of our time. It has a threefold impact on politics and reportage on political figures:

  1. Massive hostility between the political parties;
  2. Massive distrust of the news media by the news-consuming public;
  3. News media self-protectiveness as a higher priority than honest, candid journalism.

     In consequence, erring members of the parties and the media are far more likely to be protected by their groups than chastised by them. Moreover, the sinners will expect, even demand such protection. They’ll expect their fellows to mount counterattacks against their accusers, rather than offer expressions of impartiality and pieties about integrity.

     In other words, Hillary Clinton’s “vast right wing conspiracy” charge was merely a harbinger of more and worse to come.

     The root of particularism is, of course, particle. The e pluribus unum envisioned by the Founding Fathers has fragmented along many kinds of fissures. Though there’s always been some degree of differential trust among our various groups, the cleavages have deepened close to the point of impassability. The distaste for admitting to a misdeed by “a member of my club” has never been higher. The willingness to apply correction is proportionally low.

     Needless to say, that makes the problem worse. To see an offense go unadmitted and unpunished – worse, to see it rationalized and defended by the fellow-allegiants of the offender – makes the miasma of distrust thicken. But absent a complete cleansing of both the political and the journalistic classes, this is what we must anticipate and endure for the foreseeable future. Who is ready, willing, and able to undertake that cleansing? You? I? Arbitrarily chosen politician or candidate for office Smith?

     Food for thought.


sykes.1 said...

We had civic trust 70 years ago when the US was better than 85% White. Now we are becoming, if we aren't already, a multicultural, multi-ethnic empire. Democracy and civic trust are impossible in such empires, which are held together by brute force. Think Iraq under Saddam Hussein, or under its current regime, for that matter.

James said...

I'll just add this, the Left can never ever admit it was wrong on anything, ever. If they do they think (and rightly so) that all of their complex of lies and deceits will come crashing down. So they must defend it all to the bitter end.