Friday, December 29, 2017

The time for reviews

The end of any year is always a time for review: We look back on the year we’re about to complete, and, probably, toward the new year about to begin. News organisations do that, too, and it runs out so do some of the sources that journalists rely on for their stories. Sometimes those are the most interesting.

Pew Research, which is responsible for some of the deepest and broadest attitudinal studies, especially of the issues underlying US politics, posted two different looks at 2017. They both tell us a lot about the sorry state the USA is in right now.

The first report, published on December 20, was “From #MAGA to #MeToo: A look at U.S. public opinion in 2017”. The first chart I encountered is at the top of this post (though it’s actually from a piece they published back in June). It’s sobering. I know conservatives who are adamant that the current occupant of the White House has “restored” the USA’s standing around the world, that other countries “respect” the USA where once they didn’t. This one chart shows what utter bullshit that is.

The current occupant of the White House is considered a joke and ignorant buffoon throughout the world, and the respect that the USA enjoyed during the Obama Presidency is now gone. Countries throughout the world are coming to the conclusion that the only way forward is to ignore the USA and forge new alliances, and China has been a clear winner in that shift. The most obvious example of this is the UN vote against the USA and the occupant’s dumbassery in recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Allies of the USA have been explicit that they don’t back the USA on this and they always set an independent foreign policy. Under President Obama, that didn’t happen.

There’s plenty of evidence that the disdain the world has for the current occupant of the White House is now becoming a dislike of the USA itself, that the ridicule that man so richly reserves is also being extended to the entire country—though, so far, mostly to the people who actually voted for him, and the especially the unfortunate souls who still insist on supporting him for some reason.

It’ll take a new president to fix all that, but no Republican is capable of it. And that won’t happen in 2018, anyway.

The other report was published on Boxing Day: “17 striking findings from 2017”. There was one crystal clear fact that stands out. summed up in the very first finding: “Partisan divides dwarf demographic differences on key political values”. Time and time and time again, it’s demonstrated that the partisan divide in the USA is deep and seemingly unbridgeable. In the USA in 2017, party identification has become the single best indicator of what a person thinks about any number of issues, such as, among the 17 findings they cite, guns, the role of the newsmedia, the role of universities, whether whites benefit from social advantages blacks don’t benefit from.

There were more general demographic findings, too, but having seen the role that partisan identification plays in the USA, I could imagine how the two different sets would react to those otherwise non-partisan findings. Even so, the more general findings were fascinating in their own right.

And finally, today Gallup published “The American Public in 2017: What We Learned”, essentially a month-by-month review of the various findings Gallup has released, some of which I missed at the time, and would have commented on if I hadn’t. It’s fascinating to read the article through without going to the sources they link to because it provides a sort of timeline of the US stories of 2017.

Taken together, these pieces are a bit more matter-of-fact than a lot of the “year in review” pieces published by news organisations. That figures, though, because they actually list the sort of source data that journalists use in their reporting, but without the, um, additions. For that reason alone, I think they’re not just interesting, but incredibly useful to anyone with an interest in current affairs.

It’s probably good to keep looking forward, in this case, toward the new year about to begin, and, if so, it’s definitely good to look back on the year we’re about to complete. That’s because to truly know where we’re going, we need to understand where we’ve been. News organisations help with that, but source material, like that from Pew and Gallup, can help provide a better, more complete picture than news organisations alone can do. It’s not a question of either/or, it’s about being as broadly informed as possible.

And once we know and understand where we’ve been, we can move to change things for the future. That’s never been more important than right now.

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