Opinion How Republican leaders broke Americans’ confidence

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HR King
May 29, 2001
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By Dana Milbank
Columnist |
July 8, 2022 at 5:32 p.m. EDT

On Tuesday, the venerable Gallup organization reported that just 27 percent of Americans expressed confidence in their institutions — the lowest level of trust since the questions were first asked half a century ago.
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On Wednesday, Mitch McConnell showed us why Americans feel this way.
Republican senators announced that, under orders from the Senate Republican leader, they were pulling out of House-Senate talks finalizing details on bipartisan legislation to help the United States compete with China on semiconductor chips.
It wasn’t because McConnell objected to the China bill; he was one of 19 Republican senators who voted for the Senate’s version. It’s because he objects to a second, unrelated bill Democrats are working on to lower prescription drug prices.
McConnell wants to stop Democrats, including Sen. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.), from using a process known as “reconciliation” to pass that prescription-drug bill by a simple majority vote, immune from any GOP filibuster. And to stop Americans from getting cheaper prescriptions, he is willing to sabotage American manufacturers (and therefore assist China) by denying them $52 billion in support under the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act.
In both cases, Americans lose — because McConnell thinks it’s to Republicans’ advantage in the midterm elections. He is willing to hurt the country, and help the Chinese, in order to harm Democrats’ political standing.


“Let me be perfectly clear: there will be no bipartisan USICA as long as Democrats are pursuing a partisan reconciliation bill,” he tweeted.
And let me be perfectly clear: This cynicism has destroyed Americans’ faith in their government.
You can see it in this year’s edition of the annual Gallup poll on 14 U.S. institutions: Congress, the presidency, the Supreme Court, the military, business, police, media, churches, schools and more. The average confidence level, 27 percent, has declined from 46 percent in 1989.
Though opinions of individual institutions vary widely among groups, the overall distrust of institutions is universal — with little variation by gender, age, race, education or even party.
Though the economic and political cycles play some role, Gallup’s Jeffrey M. Jones, who led the study, tells me that the declining confidence is more because of a “general idea of government not being able to address the problems facing the country.”
That’s backed up by other data. Two decades ago, just 5 percent cited the government as the most important problem facing the country. That reached 32 percent for 2019, and has remained at or above 20 percent for the years since then.
This is no accident. For three decades, as the Republicans transitioned from a limited-government party to an anti-government party, GOP leaders have seen political advantage in undermining Americans’ confidence in their institutions, and in sabotaging the functions of government. That’s a major theme of my book, out next month, “The Destructionists: The Twenty-Five-Year Crack-Up of the Republican Party.”
It began with Newt Gingrich’s instructions to Republicans on how to refer to Democrats (and the government) in 1990: “Traitors.” “Corrupt.” “Cheat.” “Decay.” “Failure.” “Incompetent.” “Abuse of power.” As the era of government shutdowns, default brinkmanship, hostage-taking, name-calling and mindless obstruction was just beginning, Vice President Al Gore presciently remarked: “The Republicans are determined to wreck Congress in order to control it — and then to wreck a presidency in order to recapture it.”
McConnell played a major part in the sabotage, and not just with his extravagant intransigence toward legislation and nominees, highlighted by the theft of a Supreme Court seat in 2016.
In 2009, he urged the Obama administration to support legislation creating a debt-reduction committee — and then opposed the legislation after the Obama administration supported it. In 2012, he threw his support behind a majority vote on a debt-ceiling proposal — and then, when it appeared the bill would pass, he said he would block it with a filibuster.
Now, we see the fruits of such labors.
After Republicans’ years of throwing sand in the gears of government, just 7 percent have confidence in the legislature and 23 percent in the presidency. After Republicans’ use of underhanded tactics to secure a highly partisan supermajority on the Supreme Court, just 25 percent have confidence in the high court. After years of Republicans’ attacks on the media (culminating in Trump’s “enemy of the people” formulation) and after the GOP’s fostering of propaganda outlets such as Fox News, just 11 percent of Americans have confidence in television news (16 percent in newspapers).
They’ve hacked away at public schools (critical race theory! trans athletes!), at the “broken” military and at the criminal justice system (“corrupt” FBI and Justice Department leaders) — and Americans’ trust in those institutions has slipped, too.
Now, against all odds, Washington is on the cusp of lowering drug prices and boosting U.S. technology over China’s. And so, McConnell, top Senate Republican, steps in to sabotage both.
It doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.