Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton supporters
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

With the election of Donald Trump, we are finally seeing some people in the media question the kind of bothsidersim that masked what Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein labelled “asymmetric polarization.” But there are some liberals who continue to feed that kind of messaging. Here’s an example that comes just a Republicans are passing their horrendous tax cuts:

To demonstrate the fallacy of those quotes, this is important to keep in mind:

The idea that Congress is at fault totally ignores the fact that 100 percent of Democrats voted against this big give-away to the wealthy. Any message that feeds the idea that it is Congress—rather than Republicans—who are responsible for passing the most unpopular legislation in decades is not only misleading, it feeds right into the framing that Republicans are trying to promote. Let me remind you of what that boils down to, as described back in 2011 by former Republican congressional staffer Mike Lofgren.

There are tens of millions of low-information voters who hardly know which party controls which branch of government, let alone which party is pursuing a particular legislative tactic. These voters’ confusion over who did what allows them to form the conclusion that “they are all crooks,” and that “government is no good,” further leading them to think, “a plague on both your houses” and “the parties are like two kids in a school yard.” This ill-informed public cynicism, in its turn, further intensifies the long-term decline in public trust in government that has been taking place since the early 1960s – a distrust that has been stoked by Republican rhetoric at every turn (“Government is the problem,” declared Ronald Reagan in 1980).

When it is pointed out that significant portions of the electorate distrust government because they don’t think it works, this is the kind of messaging that is behind those assumptions. People on the left and right often converge in spreading that message. The right does so cynically because of their desire to paint government as the problem. Liberals do so in an effort to push for something better, not recognizing how they often undermine trust in the very institutions that are required to bring about the changes they want to see.

Liberals should continue to promote ways that government can be improved. But it doing so, they must avoid categorical generalizations that reinforce the idea that government is the problem, because those messages are nothing more than money in the bank for conservatives.


Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.