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Public Highly Critical of State of Political Discourse in the U.S. – Pew Research Center



The public renders a harsh judgment on the state of political discourse in this country. And for many Americans, their own conversations about politics have become stressful experiences that they prefer to avoid.

Large majorities say the tone and nature of political debate in the United States has become more negative in recent years – as well as less respectful, less fact-based and less substantive.

Meanwhile, people’s everyday conversations about politics and other sensitive topics are often tense and difficult. Half say talking about politics with people they disagree with politically is “stressful and frustrating.”

When speaking with people they do not know well, more say they would be very comfortable talking about the weather and sports – and even religion – than politics. And it is people who are most comfortable with interpersonal conflict, including arguing with other people, who also are most likely to talk about politics frequently and to be politically engaged.

Donald Trump is a major factor in people’s views about the state of the nation’s political discourse. A 55% majority says Trump has changed the tone and nature of political debate in this country for the worse; fewer than half as many (24%) say he has changed it for the better, while 20% say he has had little impact.

Perhaps more striking are the public’s feelings about the things Trump says: sizable majorities say Trump’s comments often or sometimes make them feel concerned (76%), confused (70%), embarrassed (69%) and exhausted (67%). By contrast, fewer have positive reactions to Trump’s rhetoric, though 54% say they at least sometimes feel entertained by what he says.

Pew Research Center’s wide-ranging survey of attitudes about political speech and discourse in the U.S. was conducted April 29-May 13 among 10,170 adults. Among the other major findings:

Large majority says ‘heated’ rhetoric by politicians raises risk of violenceBroad agreement on the dangers of “heated or aggressive” rhetoric by political leaders. A substantial majority (78%) says “heated or aggressive” language directed by elected officials against certain people or groups makes violence against them more likely. This view is more widely shared among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents than Republican and Republican leaners.

Partisans demand a higher standard of conduct from the other party than from their own. Majorities in both parties say it is very important that elected officials treat their opponents with respect. But while most Democrats (78%) say it is very important for Republican elected officials to treat Democratic officials with respect, only about half (47%) say it is very important for officials from their party to treat Republican politicians with respect. There is similar divide in the opinions of Republicans; 75% say Democrats should be respectful of GOP officials, while only 49% say the same about Republicans’ treatment of Democratic officials.

Majorities say people do not agree on what is seen as racist, sexist languageUncertainty about what constitutes “offensive” speech. As in the past, a majority of Americans (60%) say “too many people are easily offended over the language that others use.” Yet there is uncertainty about what constitutes offensive speech: About half (51%) say it is easy to know what others might find offensive, while nearly as many (48%) say it is hard to know. In addition, majorities say that people in this country do not generally agree about the types of language considered to be sexist (65%) and racist (61%).

Majority says social media companies have responsibility to remove “offensive” content. By a wide margin (66% to 32%), more people say social media companies have a responsibility to remove offensive content from their platforms than say they do not have this responsibility. But just 31% have a great deal or fair amount of confidence in these companies to determine what offensive content should be removed. And as noted, many Americans acknowledge it is difficult to know what others may find offensive.

Talking about Trump with people who feel differently about him. The survey asks people to imagine attending a social gathering with people who have different viewpoints from theirs about the president. Nearly six-in-ten (57%) of those who approve of Trump’s job performance say they would share their views about Trump when talking with a group of people who do not like him. But fewer (43%) of those who disapprove of Trump say they would share their views when speaking with a group of Trump supporters.

What’s OK – and off-limits – for political debates

Insulting an opponent’s appearance is widely viewed as never acceptable; less agreement on use of ‘evil’While Americans decry the tone of today’s political debates, they differ over the kinds of speech that are acceptable – and off-limits – for elected officials to use when criticizing their rivals.

Some language and tactics are viewed as clearly over the line: A sizable majority (81%) says it is never acceptable for a politician to deliberately mislead people about their opponent’s record. There is much less agreement about the acceptability of elected officials using insults like “evil” or “anti-American.”

Partisanship has a major impact on these opinions. For the most part, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say many of the insults and taunts are never acceptable. For example, 53% of Democrats say it is never acceptable for an elected official to say their opponent is anti-American; only about half as many Republicans (25%) say the same.

As with views of whether elected officials should “respect” their opponents, partisans hold the opposing side to a higher standard than their own side in views of acceptable discourse for political debates.

Most Republicans (72%) say it is never acceptable for a Democratic official to call a Republican opponent “stupid,” while far fewer (49%) say it is unacceptable for a Republican to use this slur against a Democrat. Among Democrats, 76% would rule out a Republican calling a Democratic opponent “stupid,” while 60% say the same about Democrat calling a Republican “stupid.” See Chapter 2 for an interactive illustration of how people’s views about the acceptability of political insults vary depending on whether or not they share the same party affiliation of the elected officials casting the insults.

Large shares have negative reactions to what Trump says

Trump’s statements spur feelings of concern, confusion, embarrassment Majorities of Americans say they often or sometimes feel a range of negative sentiments – including concern, confusion, embarrassment and exhaustion – about the things that Trump says.

Positive feelings about Trump’s comments are less widespread. Fewer than half say they often or sometimes feel informed, hopeful, excited and happy about what the president says. A 54% majority says they at least sometimes feel entertained by what Trump says, the highest percentage expressing a positive sentiment.

Democrats overwhelmingly have negative reactions to Trump’s statements, while the reactions of Republicans are more varied. Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, at least 80% say they often or sometimes experience each of the seven negative emotions included in the survey.

A 59% majority of Republicans and Republican leaners say they often or sometimes feel concerned by what Trump says. About half also say they are at least sometimes embarrassed (53%) and confused (47%) by Trump’s statements.

By contrast, large majorities of Republicans say they often or sometimes feel hopeful (79%), entertained (78%), informed and happy (76%) and other positive sentiments in response to the things Trump says.

No more than about 10% of Democrats express any positive feelings toward what Trump says, with two exceptions: 17% say they are often or sometimes informed, while 35% are at least sometimes entertained.

Republicans see a less ‘comfortable’ environment for GOP views

Republicans less likely to say GOPers are 'very comfortable' voicing viewsRepublicans say that members of their party across the country are less comfortable than Democrats to “freely and openly” express their political views. In addition, Republicans are far more critical than Democrats about the climate for free expression in the nation’s educational institutions – not just colleges, but also community colleges and K-12 public schools.

Just 26% of Republicans say that Republicans across the country are very comfortable in freely and openly expressing their political opinions; nearly two-thirds of Republicans (64%) think Democrats are very comfortable voicing their opinions. Among Democrats, there are more modest differences in perceptions of the extent to which partisans are comfortable freely expressing their political views.

There are smaller partisan differences when it comes to opinions about how comfortable Republicans and Democrats are expressing their views in their local communities. Yet these opinions vary depending on the partisan composition of the local community. Republicans and Democrats living in counties that Trump won by wide margins in 2016 are more likely than those in evenly divided counties (or those that Hillary Clinton won decisively) to say Republicans are very comfortable expressing their views.

Reps less likely to say colleges, K-12 schools are open to differing opinionsRepublicans’ concerns about the climate for free speech on college campuses are not new. The new survey finds that fewer than half of Republicans (44%) say colleges and universities are open to a wide range of opinions and viewpoints; Democrats are nearly twice as likely (87%) to say the same.

Republicans also are less likely than Democrats to say community colleges and K-12 public schools are open to differing viewpoints. By contrast, a larger share of Republicans (56%) than Democrats (40%) say that churches and religious organizations are very or somewhat open to a wide range of opinions and viewpoints.

Members of both parties generally view their own local communities as places that are open to a wide range of viewpoints. Large and nearly identical shares in both parties say their local community is at least somewhat open to a wide range of opinions and viewpoints (75% of Democrats, 74% of Republicans).

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5 Ways To Erase Ableism From The Workplace And Politics – Forbes



30 years after passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is still twice the rate for non-disabled people. One of the key reasons may be that many ableist assumptions about disability and basic competence are still so widely considered common sense that we don’t even think of them as discrimination. Then, just when it seems like employers are starting to think differently about disability, competence, and employment, popular politics intervenes to reinforce everyone’s worst instincts.

A few weeks ago, news and social media followers were alternately distracted or amused by a new round of health and mental state spitballing against President Trump, based on the idea that he’s secretly physically or mentally disabled, or both. Trump is old and infirm. He’s physically failing. Worst of all, he’s either mentally ill or suffering from some sort of age-related dementia! These mental fitness arguments are also often used to explain Trump’s more outrageous actions and offensive personality traits, even his beliefs. Several of the key “takeaways” from Mary Trump’s forthcoming book … though significantly not all of them by far … apparently include assertions of clinical mental illness and “personality disorders.” 

Since well before Trump’s 2016 election, speculating freely about his mental and physical “fitness” for the job has been a popular if unofficial tactic for many of those who oppose and resist him and his administration. However, not all of Trump’s critics are so quick to jump on the “Trump-is-sick” bandwagon.

In The Atlantic, David A. Graham makes a similar, though slightly more equivocal argument, focusing on what he considers “extensive evidence” that he is “temperamentally unfit to lead the country.” His argument here is interesting, because it skates very close to diagnosing Trump with some kind of mental illness. Yet, Graham concludes by rejecting ableist arguments entirely and suggesting we all focus instead on his actions and behavior. This may reflect the fact that in the popular understanding, the line between mere personality traits or “temperament” and mental pathology is very fuzzy.

Caroline Reilly of BitchMedia notes that this tactic has never been confined to just President Trump, writing:

“We’ve seen this playbook used time and again: We saw it when Hillary Clinton fainted in 2016 as she battled pneumonia; we saw it when Bernie Sanders had a heart attack in 2019; and we see it in current conversations about Joe Biden’s stutter. Ableism, it seems, is bipartisan.“

In a Washington Post editorial, leading disability activist and disability policy expert Rebecca Cokley takes this a step further, offering an excellent rebuttal to these attacks on their substance, but also pointing out what so many other disabled people have felt since ableism first became a go-to rhetorical tactic against Trump. These accusations of physical and mental “infirmity” may or may not damage Trump politically, but they absolutely hurt and harm people with disabilities.

“Every single professional with a disability I know has been questioned privately and publicly about whether their “condition” hinders their ability to do their job. This is a universal truth and fear for any individual across physical, mental, intellectual, sensory and chronic illness communities.“

As Reilly further observes, ableist attacks on individual politicians have a much broader corrosive effect on disabled people more generally:

“… Every time a politician stumbles, stutters, or misspeaks, we seemingly return to that toxic notion that to be ill is to be less than, to be less capable and less worthy of a job or respect.”

Whether in politics or management, disability discrimination is lazy. Instead of facing up to actually terrible employees … or a loose-cannon President … we look for an escape hatch that allows us to “get rid of them” without taking responsibility for what they stand for and why people support them in the first place.

This can bring temporary relief, but it leaves deeper problems to fester. And these arguments also usually produce collateral damage. In both politics and the workplace, loose talk of mental instability, chronic illness, and physical impairment is like mustard gas on a WWI battlefield. It’s tempting to use, but it can’t be controlled and can blow back on anyone.

Physical and mental fitness arguments in politics also have a troubling history. In 1972, Vice-Presidential nominee Thomas Eagleton was dropped because he had been treated for depression. No one candidate is essential, but who is to say the United States didn’t lose an outstanding leader when Thomas Eagleton fell to ableist fears of mental disorder?

It’s also worth remembering that totalitarian regimes have used psychological diagnoses to neutralize political opponents as recently as the 1970s and ‘80s. Deviance from approved ideology wasn’t just a political problem in the Soviet Union. Disagreement was treated as a literal pathology. It’s an extreme example, but we come pretty close to it when we start labeling abhorrent beliefs as some kind of personal clinical deviance, rather than signs of deep social and ideological division. The implications for free speech and democracy are chilling.

And again, using the stigma of disability as a political weapon also helps keep people with all kinds of physical and mental conditions stigmatized and economically dependent. The social and financial costs of this are massive, and not contained just to disabled people themselves.

So, what do we do instead? How do we respond to employees, or politicians, who we believe may be sick, fragile, or clinically unstable? With workplaces riven with competition and politics so polarized, how can we effectively protect ourselves from those who we feel are genuinely unfit? Here are five principles to keep in mind:

1. Stay away from armchair diagnosis

Most people can’t help connecting “weird” or “irrational” behavior with “mental illness” … or stumbles and awkward movements with disability or “frailty.” That’s usually regarded as simply observant, but it’s also ableism … unsupported assumptions about a person’s mental or physical state based on superficial evidence. And most of us have at best a superficial understanding of mental and physical disabilities.

Don’t do it. Stick with what you know, and set aside what you can only speculate. That goes for what other people speculate too, even when they present as psychological professionals or medical doctors. If they haven’t met and conducted a proper examination, then their opinion is just that, and no more reliable than anyone else’s.

2. Focus on individual people’s actions and behaviors

This is prejudice 101, but it never hurts to review. Resist the temptation to rely on what you expect from different “kinds” of people, and assess each person as an individual. What matters is what people do and how they behave with others, not what their health or mental status might or might not be.

The key thing to remember is that while most disabilities have effects on the disabled people who have them, neither physical nor mental disabilities can truly predict or explain what any person will do or can do. Any physically disabled people can be capable of performing any physical task, either in the usual way or with adaptations and accommodations. And any mentally disabled person can be perfectly reliable, rational, and analytical … able to process any tasks, using the usual methods, or some different routines and supports.

In any case, if you are assessing a coworker, employee, or a politician, your only concern is results. Are they doing a good job? Are they working well with others, if working with others is necessary and important? If they are having difficulties, can they be surmounted with reasonable accommodations, or maybe a different perspective on the matter?

This is one of the rare instances where a genuine businesslike approach actually helps. Results are what matters, not half-baked theories, personal hang-ups, or prejudices.

3. Focus on ideas and ideologies

At first glance, this runs counter to distinctly American values of fairness and nonpartisanship. You’re not supposed to judge a person for their politics, or either punish or reward them for their personal views and beliefs.

Yet, even in the workplace, while retail, partisan politics shouldn’t be a factor, some ideas and beliefs are understood to be off-limits, or inherently counter-productive to the job at hand. Open racism, sexism, homophobia, and other beliefs are not welcomed or sustainable in well-functioning organizations.

And in politics, judging and acting on people’s belief systems is entirely appropriate … it’s what politics is.

Also, it’s important not to confuse objectionable beliefs and behaviors with mental illness. Racism is bad, but it’s not a mental illness. Sexism is gross, but it’s not a pathology. Cruelty and narcissism are unpleasant, and ultimately dysfunctional, but they aren’t illnesses. It’s tempting to some people to equate terrible beliefs and attitudes with impairment, but they aren’t the same things. Disabled people aren’t more likely to be evil, and evil can’t be explained away by disability.

4. No matter how dire a personnel matter is, don’t look for an easy way out

When someone is driving either chaos or chronic mediocrity in your organization, you want them out. And there are always procedural and “political” barriers to making that happen. There are steps to follow for fair termination. There are consequences to deal with if the person you are getting rid of has allies.

It’s the same in politics. For good reason, our institutions have barriers in place to prevent getting rid of people we have once elected just because we’ve changed our minds and things aren’t working out. And no one political or philosophical viewpoint is allowed to lord it over all others merely because they have a thin majority at any given time. Barriers and consequences are built into the system for a reason.

Either way, in politics and in workplaces, taking short-cuts around those barriers is seductive, but also potentially illegal and certainly a bad idea. One of the shortcuts people think of is physical or mental “unfitness.” If we can “prove” that the problem isn’t the person or their ideas and policies, but rather an unfortunate illness, then we can get rid of them with something that may feel like a clear conscience, maybe without consequences. We all supposedly agree that an “incapacitated” person can’t do a job, or serve in an elected office. So it looks like a path to agreement where agreement can’t otherwise be found.

Core problems in workplaces and politics don’t go away just because a particular person is gone. Serious problems are almost never all the fault of one person … in politics, and in workplaces too.

5. Don’t throw around stigmatizing language about mental or physical disability

Meanwhile, an important piece of background culture change is to quietly but firmly break the habit of pathologizing language.

Stop calling people or ideas lazy, sick, weak, fragile, crazy, nuts, certifiable, or insane. Language like this may seem unimportant, and it can be very difficult to avoid. But it is important, and disabled people notice. We really do. Stigmatizing language like this hurts. It weighs us down. And acceptance of it sends a message to us and everyone around us that it’s okay to judge people based on their real or perceived physical or mental disabilities. This is toleration of illegal, harmful prejudice, and it needs to stop, especially when it’s used casually.

These principles are themselves common sense. Most of us know they are the right ways to approach questions we might have about other people’s mental or physical conditions. We only overrule ourselves because our prejudices also feel like common sense to us. That’s why we can’t assume our own good intentions. We need to be deliberate about rejecting ableism, in our own everyday lives and workplaces, and in the intense heat and high stakes of politics.

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Politics Podcast: COVID-19 Deaths Are Rising. What Will The U.S. Do? – FiveThirtyEight



After more than two months of decline, the number of Americans dying from COVID-19 is increasing. In this installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, the crew discusses how Americans think the U.S. should respond to this crisis and whether President Trump and other politicians are in agreement. They also explore a lesson some Democrats took away from the 2016 election — that the party should focus less on identity politics.

FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast: COVID-19 deaths are rising. What will the U.S. do?

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast publishes Mondays and Thursdays. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.

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The Politics of a COVID-19 Vaccine – Council on Foreign Relations



The global toll of the COVID-19 pandemic is enormous: more than a half-million lives lost, hundreds of millions out of work, and trillions of dollars of wealth destroyed. And the disease has by no means run its course; hundreds of thousands more could well die from it.

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Not surprisingly, there is tremendous interest in the development of a vaccine, with more than a hundred efforts under way around the world. Several look promising, and one or more may bear fruit – possibly faster than the several years or longer it normally takes to bring a vaccine on line.

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World Health Organization (WHO)

But even if one or more vaccines emerge that promise to make people less susceptible to COVID-19, the public-health problem will not be eliminated. As any medical expert will attest, vaccines are not panaceas. They are but one tool in the medical arsenal.

No vaccine can be expected to produce complete or lasting immunity in all who take it. Millions will refuse to get vaccinated. And there is the brute fact that there are nearly eight billion men, women, and children on the planet. Manufacturing eight billion doses (or multiples of that if more than one dose is needed) of one or more vaccines and distributing them around the globe could require years, not months.

These are all matters of science, manufacturing, and logistics. They are sure to be difficult. But the politics will be at least as challenging.

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For starters, who will pay for any vaccine? Companies will expect to recoup their investment in research and development, along with the costs of production and distribution. That is already tens of billions of dollars (and possibly much more) – before the question of profit is even introduced. There is also the related question of how companies that develop a vaccine will be compensated if they are required to license the patents and know-how to producers elsewhere.

The toughest political question of all, though, is likely to concern access. Who should receive the initial doses of any vaccine? Who determines who is allowed into the queue and in what order? What special advantages accrue to the country where a vaccine is developed? To what extent will wealthier countries crowd out poorer ones? Will countries let geopolitics intrude, sharing the vaccine with friends and allies while forcing vulnerable populations in adversary countries to the back of the line?

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At the national level, every government should start to think through how it will distribute those vaccines it produces or receives. One idea would be to administer it first to health-care workers, followed by police, firefighters, the military, teachers, and other essential workers. Governments must also consider what priority to give those at higher risk of developing serious complications from COVID-19, such as the elderly and those with preexisting conditions. Should a vaccine be free to some or all?

At the international level, the questions are even more complex. We need to make sure that production can be scaled rapidly, that rules are in place for availability, and that sufficient funds are pledged so that poorer countries are covered. Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organization, several governments, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have formed the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility. Its creators propose that any effective vaccine that emerges be treated as a global public good, to be distributed equally around the world, regardless of where it was invented or of a country’s ability to pay. The WHO has put forward a global allocation framework that seeks to ensure priority for the most vulnerable populations and health-care workers.

But such approaches may be unrealistic. It is not just that the COVAX effort lacks adequate funding, the participation of the United States and China, and clear authority. It is that all governments are sure to come under enormous pressure to take care of their own citizens first. Vaccine nationalism is almost certain to win out over vaccine multilateralism.

Recent history reinforces this skepticism. COVID-19 emerged in China and quickly became a worldwide problem. Responses, though, have been mostly along national lines. Some countries have fared relatively well, thanks to their existing public health systems and political leadership; with others, it has been just the opposite.

Continuing this national-level approach to a vaccine is a recipe for disaster. Only a handful of countries will be able to produce viable vaccines. The approach must be global. The reasons are not just ethical and humanitarian, but also economic and strategic, as global recovery requires collective improvement.

In Iraq, when military progress outpaced planning for the US-led war’s aftermath, the result was chaos, or “catastrophic success.” We cannot afford an analogous outcome here, with success in the laboratory outpacing planning for what comes next. Governments, companies, and nongovernmental organizations need to come together quickly, be it in the COVAX initiative, under the auspices of the United Nations or the G20, or somewhere else. Global governance comes in all shapes and sizes. What is essential is that it comes. The lives of millions, the economic welfare of billions, and social stability everywhere hang in the balance.

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