If you can’t trust political parties, who can you trust? OK, stop laughing for a second and work with us here. In The Federalist Stories Number 2 and The Federalist Stories Number 4 we scratched the surface on why the American people do not trust the political information they receive from legacy media and social media. Two other huge sources of political information are the parties themselves, but unfortunately they do not rate high on the trust factor either.
Before we continue, let’s take a second to specify who we’re talking about when we say “the political parties,” because even though the politicians are typically the most visible, there are many other people and groups that make them up. Regarding both the Democrats and the Republicans, a political party is made up of politicians (elected officials and candidates) for offices at the federal, state, and local levels, the party machinery at the national, state, and local levels, and the countless staff in the middle.
The summary provided here generally matches up with most other summaries: confidence/trust in BOTH parties is way down and doesn’t seem to be making a comeback anytime soon. While supporters of a particular party may trust the political information coming from the same party, in today’s hyper partisan climate the supporters of the other party typically have very little trust in the same information; with a chunk of “undecided” people in the middle not trusting the information from either.
As far as approval ratings go, Congress has had historically low approval ratings for most of this century. In most polling it has remained in the teens except for periodic times of big government intervention such as the Great Recession or the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Once upon a time Presidents used to be able to crack 70 or 60 percent approval but now they’re happy if they can just break 50 percent. What are the main reasons for this lack of trust? We’re glad you asked!
Nothing erodes public trust in politicians and political parties faster than a genuine, large-scale scandal. Unfortunately both parties know this so over time they have become more and more efficient at saturating Americans with fake scandals that are not so genuine or large-scale, making Americans desensitized to the term “scandal” and harder for them to recognize genuine ones. And if that wasn’t bad enough, there is an almost guaranteed probability that someone considering running for public office, especially a federal office, will have to endure fake scandals targeting them or their families/friends. This discourages many Americans who would make great elected officials from running for office every year because they just don’t want to deal with it.
Make no mistake, however, both parties have had many genuine scandals over the years that have destroyed American trust in the parties themselves and politics overall, plus created a large amount of cynicism. Because Political Rankings is a nonpartisan organization, we will not go into any specific examples, or compare any examples, to avoid the possibility of applying unequal judgement or comparison to either party. We encourage you the reader to do an internet search yourself; unfortunately there is no shortage of material.
It is basic human nature to not trust a person or organization that regularly breaks its promises. The parties have a list of broken promises to the American people so long it’s practically impossible to measure; especially when it comes to presidential campaigns. Remember the cynicism toward politics mentioned previously? American politics has become so cynical that even Americans who don’t follow politics closely know that the majority of the promises or presidential campaigns will go unfulfilled. They are happy when presidents fulfill any of their campaign promises; the bar of “most” or “all” promises being kept is long gone. Maybe it would help to start calling them “proposals” instead of “promises?”
Congress is another branch of the government that is very visible to the American people and party leaders, whips, etc, have made many promises over the years. They say things like “this is the session where we finally tackle [insert issue here], ” but it never gets done. Again, to avoid the perception of partisanship, we are not going to pick or compare broken promises from either party. What we will say is that each broken promise corresponds to an issue that has a negative impact on a varying numbers of Americans to varying degrees. For issues like the runaway costs of healthcare and education, they impact all Americans to an extraordinary degree.
Party Over Country
At the heart of public service is the duty that elected officials should put the good of the country above the good of a party, even if it’s their own party. Founding Fathers such as George Washington knew of the danger of politicians reversing that priority and warned America about it long ago. Are there any Americans today who would say with confidence that either political party consistently put country over party today? Rather, are there any Americans who would say that both political parties do so? Because there are surely plenty who would say that their party of choice does, but definitely not the other one.
We believe that most Americans understand the natural desire of each party to be self-interested and self-preserving, but that the current American political landscape is way, way beyond that today. A large percentage of Americans see 2 parties more interested in trying to destroy each other than build up America, more interested in bickering and scoring political points than behaving like leaders of the “shining city on a hill,” and more interested in making sure they get (or are willing to obstruct until they can get) majority/most credit for solutions than solving big issues. Americans see 2 parties with high ideals of how elected officials (and those who work for them) should behave while they are in office; until the shoe is on the other foot.
Kicking The Can Down The Road
Americans don’t need experts or focus groups to tell them it is guaranteed that the combination of the issues mentioned previously, which are only SOME of the issues, will lead America to very bad place; they already know. The balancing of power between multiple branches of government is a feature, not a bug, of the Constitution. It was supposed to mean that only solutions to issues that were truly effective would be able to survive the political process. But a growing number of Americans are asking questions similar to “are political parties even trying to find solutions? Or just say they are so they’ll have something to campaign on, then kick the can down the road?” On top of that, if they’re not even doing the basic logistical tasks of government, aka passing actual budgets (not continuing resolutions), filling court vacancies, enforcing the law (and repealing laws instead of selectively not enforcing them), etc, why are we paying them?
At Political Rankings, we believe that some people within the political parties are just trying to do the best job they can. Heck, on a good day, we might even upgrade that qualifier from “some” to “a slight majority.” Joking aside though, politicians and political parties are reflections of the populations that elect them. So as mentioned in previous articles in this series, systemic problems in America (and in politics) run much deeper than the shortcomings of political parties. We all must do our part to be informed voters and be willing to hold all representatives from both political parties accountable; and compliment both parties when they actually achieve something. Because as problematic as it can be to have a 2-party system, it is that same system that has led to the United States of America becoming the most powerful country in the world and having many accomplishments along the way. Having more parties than you could shake a stick at comes with its own problems, right Italy?
Let’s not forget, however, that the loss of trust by the American people in the political parties is a key dynamic at the core of why the landscape of American politics is the way that it is today. Combined with the loss of trust in the other main sources of political information, it leaves one huge problem: Americans have no reliable source of political information. America needs an organization like Political Rankings to be a nonpartisan, comprehensive, and trustworthy source of political information. Check out future entries in this series as we will elaborate on what exactly Political Rankings has to offer.
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