The Second Annual State of the American Dream Survey recently released by Xavier University's Center for the Study of the American Dream showed that apart from the military, there is a new low water mark of distrust in the nation's major institutions.
83% say of American adults say they have less trust in "politics in general" than they did 10 or 15 years ago;
79% say they have less trust in big business and major corporations;
78% say they have less trust in government;
72% report declining trust in the media.
Distrust of government and Big Business is not new and has been trending negatively for decades. However, the distrust numbers have grown to such startling negative levels that the confidence of the nation in itself and in the capacity to create the future leaves the Dream wondering about itself.
Disgust and public separation from politics is clear. Big Business now seems to be an important and recklessly self-interested arm of the political process. So how does the media get into the distrust formulation?
As late as May of 1972, 70% of Americans "had trust and confidence that the government could handle its domestic problems." But the Watergate break-in happened one month later and the decline of trust in government has never abated.
In 1980 CNN was created by Ted Turner. This led to the creation of a 24/7 news cycle. Cable has proliferated and the Internet has transformed communication to an extent unimaginable in 1980.
In spite these changes, legacy media still authenticates news while cable and alternative media elaborates it and serves as a GPS for like-mindedness as these fertilize segregated communities of interest . When trying to analyze the distrust of the media there are many theories. Here are four.
1. Roughly half the US the population, (Gen X,Y,Z) doesn't know the media is supposed to be trusted as a public watchdog. They have their own personalized media and know no other world and their most trusted news person today is John Stewart, host of a pretend news program. Among these younger Americans traditional media is simply irrelevant.
2. Proportionality - is the appropriate ratio of one quantity to another, especially the ratio of a part compared to a whole. The media persistently displays for ratings, a loss of proportionality by over-coverage of the unimportant events such as Charlie Sheen's crack-up, the impending royal wedding and Donald Trump's Birther campaign.
3. Factoids; a term coined by Norman Mailer is not about little facts. It's about unmelodious fabrication lazily repeated so often in the media, that it becomes "true". In terms of the American Dream, factoids are rampant and begin with the idea, still peddled desperately by the real estate, home building and mortgage industries, that "homeownership" is the American Dream. In fact, only 3% in the Survey indicated this was their American Dream. Among many other examples is the China story told to Americans in such a way that 62% of us believe China has the largest and most powerful economy in the world even though it is one-third the size of the U.S. 52% of us believe "the future will be created by China."
4. Information Theory - A central principle of Information Theory is that information is received in inverse proportion to its predictability. Predictability leads to the incubation and multiplication of factoids. One reason we are losing confidence in the nation is because we are now accustomed to bad news about ourselves. Our sails are trimmed every day and the nation's self-worth is bruised.
Here's an example of how the three problems of proportionality, factoids and information theory play out in practice.
47% of the US debt held by the public is held by foreigners and the greatest holder of that debt is China ($1.1 trillion). Is China the most important part of that story? Probably not. Japan is 9.7% of the Chinese population but itself owns 80% of the amount of US debt owned by China ($885 billion). The story isn't China. The story is that nearly half of the US publically owned debt is non-American hands whereas in 1970 it was less than 5%. China is not the point. The point is that our financial future is increasingly not in our own hands.
The American public is in the dark and increasingly afraid of China based on disproportionate factoid driven stories.