America’s Trust Deficit, Ctd

Jun 11 2012 @ 12:35pm

Joe Klein recently mourned the loss of trust in America. Samuel Goldman labels this "liberal nostalgia":

[Klein] makes the basic error of all liberal nostalgists. In short: the consensus around a highly-regulated, highly-taxed, middle-class society that lasted from about 1945-1965 is thoroughly exceptional in American history. It came into being through the sequence of the Great Depression and World War II, which was by no means predetermined. And it eroded as those experiences slipped into the past, in addition to changes in the international economy and the restoration of mass immigration, among other reasons. The postwar moment cannot be restored by any policies or programs.

I fear he is right. I also feel the gulf is deeper than even Joe, in his splendid missives from the road, acknowledges. I grew up on political theory and learned how polities in the past were united by universally acknowledged or at least widely accepted commonalities. Shared moralities, experiences, religions and cultures were part of past cultures where elites imposed moral and cultural order, often buttressed by the church. Modernity ended that – splintering us into a million little subcultures, bound together now solely by the joint pursuit of material wealth. And when that wealth dries up, or disappears for a while, when the system fails to guarantee its constant economic growth, you see more plainly the gulfs that separate us. Which is where we are now.

I saw a poll the other day that is still in my head. Here it is:

Screen shot 2012-06-11 at 11.32.17 AM

We can over-analyze single poll results, but absorbing this chart is a useful tonic to anyone feeling optimistic about bringing the country together. A clear plurality of Americans believe in something empirically untrue: that human beings in our current form were created 10,000 years ago. More interestingly, that number has jumped in the last couple of years, while a more moderate fusion of science and religion – "humans evolved but with God guiding" – is at its lowest level ever, and may soon be joining the slowly growing ranks of the Darwinians.

I'm not sure how many of the 46 percent actually believe the story of 10,000 years ago. Surely some of them know it's less empirically supported than Bigfoot. My fear is that some of that 46 percent are giving that answer not as an empirical response, but as a cultural signifier. That means that some are more prepared to cling to untruth than concede a thing to libruls or atheists or blue America, or whatever the "other" is at any given point in time. I simply do not know how you construct a civil discourse indispensable to a functioning democracy with this vast a gulf between citizens in their basic understanding of the world.