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The Death of Neutrality

The Death of Neutrality
AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool

Dear Reader —

A casualty of the 2016 election was the concept of “neutrality” in our politics. Objectivity in journalism, evidence-based policy, scientifically informed regulations, and quantitative assessments of legislative impacts — these are increasingly met with skepticism, distrust, and even cynicism today. One man’s investigative reporting is another’s “fake news,” while the policy recommendations of the “expert class” are dismissed as ideological cover for some political agenda. 

More significant, perhaps, is that the purported vehicles for such objectivity — the mainstream media, academia, or governmental bodies such as the Congressional Budget Office, regulatory, intelligence, and law-enforcement agencies — are increasingly viewed as biased. Fewer and fewer Americans believe the institutions that once provided the common ground for our public deliberations — the raw material, so to speak, of our political debates — are beyond the reach of politics. The very concept of neutral standards to which one might appeal in our public life seems to have been thrown out with the bath water.

It is in this context that James Comey offered his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee Thursday morning. Surely few, if any, Americans believed this event would change minds. Trump’s supporters believe Comey to be self-serving (or worse), rendering his testimony untrustworthy a priori; Trump’s detractors believe his supporters to be irrational (or worse), rendering them immune to objective evidence a priori. At stake is not merely the word of one man against another, but the status of the F.B.I as a neutral arbiter in our political life.

Those who respond to the popular distrust of our elites by making appeal to elite institutions miss the point entirely. The lesson to be learned is that we have held the institutions vital to our public deliberations to implausibly high standards of neutrality. So when these institutions fail to live up to those standards (as they inevitably do), the result is not healthy criticism, but global skepticism. 

If we are to recover something resembling rational debate in our public sphere — so that matters as serious as the purported criminality of the president can be adjudicated reasonably and fairly — our institutions and our elites will have to earn the trust of the public once again. That will require humility, not to say neutrality.

These are some of the many issues taken up at RealClearPolicy over the past week. Below you will find just a few highlights.

— M. Anthony Mills, editor | RealClearPolicy


Democrats Need Populism. For The American Prospect, Celinda Lake, Daniel Gotoff, and Olivia Myszkowski argue the coalition of “racially diverse, young, educated, unmarried (women), and urban voters” that elected Barack Obama no longer “constitute an inexorable path to Electoral College victory for Democrats.” 

Is There an Emerging Democratic Agenda? In The New York Times, Jared Bernstein suggests that a new platform may be coalescing around such progressive ideas as a universal child allowance and a higher minimum wage. 

Another “Repeal and Replace” Disaster. The Week’s Jeff Spross takes aim at Republican efforts to repeal and replace the Dodd-Frank Act. 

Can Bipartisan Criminal-Justice Reform Survive Trump? In The New Yorker Justin George considers the fate of criminal-justice reform efforts that enjoyed bipartisan support before Trump’s rise. 

Will the Death Penalty Ever Die? In The New York Review of Books, Jed S. Rakoff weighs the prospects of abolishing capital punishment in the U.S. 

Fusionism Once and Future. In Modern Age, Samuel Goldman, explains the “fusion” of libertarian and tradition ideas that once characterized American conservatism and considers its fate in the Trump era. 

In Gerrymandering Case, SCOTUS Should Reverse. In our own pages, Matt Walter explains his objections to a district court’s ruling in Wisconsin. 

The Congressional Budget Office Needs to Be Reformed. For National Review, Yuval Levin makes the case for reforming a budget process he thinks is inherently “flawed.” 

It's Not the End of the World. Also in our pages, Lindsay Marchello explains why Trump’s decision to leave the Paris climate agreement might not matter as much as his critics claim. 

The Next Installment in the War on Cops. In Power Line, Steven Hayward critiques a recent study on the content analysis of body-cam footage from Oakland police that purports to show “racial disparities” in how police officers interact with citizens. 

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