Saturday, May 11, 2024

Polarization may phase out of American politics as younger generations shift

This blog originally appeared in the Conversation. 

The sharp increase in political polarization in America over the past 50 years has been driven in part by how different generations think about politics. But the rise of younger generations to political power may actually erase the deep social divisions associated with polarization.

That’s one of the strong possibilities for the future suggested by the diverse array of findings of our research, including editing a collection of the most current work on how different generations of Americans participate in public life.

For the past 30 years, baby boomers (those born roughly between 1946 and 1964) and members of the Silent Generation (those born between 1925 and 1945) have driven and defined American politics. For the most part, the Silent Generation and the older baby boomers were the core of the Republican Party. And the younger baby boomers, along with many Gen Xers (born roughly between 1965 and 1981), formed the core of the Democratic Party.

Millennials (born between 1982 and 1995) and Gen Z (born between 1996 and 2013) lean liberal and are more likely to vote for Democrats. They were key contributors to Democratic election wins in 2018, 2020 and 2022, especially in swing states.

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Based on our research, presented in “Generational Politics in the United States: From the Silents to Gen Z and Beyond,” earlier generations – the Silents, baby boomers and Gen X – are more divided than millennials and Gen Z.

We expect that in the future, highly partisan members of the Silent, boomer and Gen X generations will exit and no longer be part of American political life. They will be replaced by millennials and Gen Zers, who are less likely to define themselves as strong Republicans or Democrats. The greater consensus among young people today may lessen polarization.

A group of men in suits stand around a man in a suit sitting at a desk. All of them are smiling.
This 1989 photo of a bipartisan group of members of Congress alongside President George H.W. Bush shows a moment of collegiality despite party differences. Mark Reinstein/Corbis via Getty Images

5 decades of change

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, the vast majority of Americans had views roughly in the political center, with smaller numbers of people holding notably right-leaning or left-leaning opinions. In general, most voters had a broad consensus on policy issues. The Democratic and Republican parties were also broadly centrist. During this time period, Congress passed the Great Society programs, the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act and the Clean Air Act with bipartisan support.

But over the past 50 years, fewer and fewer Americans have identified themselves as aligned with the political center, and more have described themselves as on the right or the left, either as liberals or conservatives. This has led to increasing differences between the political parties, with the Democrats to the left of center and the Republicans to the right.

Members of Congress now are more likely to stick with their political party when voting, rather than vote for legislation supported by the other party. Recent passage of legislation linking Ukraine aid with support of Israel has been described as “rare cooperation among the parties.”

This polarization has many causes, including the influence of special-interest money on lawmakers and parties and society’s increased economic inequality. But our research highlights the role that new and changing generations can play in future shifts in American politics.

American politics is the constant cycle of generations entering and exiting the political arena. Even more, variation in the social and political environment during each generation’s formative years notably affects the attitudes and behaviors each generation will subsequently adopt.

For instance, the youngest generation is used to a 24-hour online news cycle and has experience with contested elections. Changes in generational attitudes today hold the potential to lessen current levels of polarization.

Generations have different characteristics

When we look across the past century, our research finds profound differences in the demographics and political views of the generations today.

The millennials and Gen Zers are the most racially and demographically diverse generations in American history. They are the least religious, which means they are less likely than their elders to say they follow a religion, to believe in a biblical god and to pray.

Additionally, these younger generations are more likely to self-identify as liberal. As we and others explain in several chapters of our book, surveys show they are more liberal on a whole range of issues regarding social matters, the economy, immigration and climate change.

Millennials and Gen Zers also vote more Democratic than older generations. And there is some evidence to support the expectation that their governing style as elected officials emphasizes issues that millennial citizens care about. For example, a set of millennial mayors who held office at various times from 2004 to 2024 focused on traditional economic concerns but also added social justice perspectives to the mix.

Wooden blocks form two peninsulas, joined by a yellow wooden block across the gap between them.
There may be a way to bridge some of the nation’s political gaps – wait. Andrii Yalanskyi/iStock/Getty Images Plus

A new political center?

The consensus on political views among members of these younger generations means there is potential for decreasing polarization. This would be a key change in American politics, we believe for the better.

But there are other possible scenarios. As the old saying goes, demographics are not always destiny. There are thorny methodological questions involved in pinning down the impact of generations.

Politically, young Republican men can be conservative on social issues. And consensus among young Democrats could be challenged by events such as campus protests over the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

Overall, however, generational shifts portend the possibility of decreasing polarization.

How the Corporate University Created and Destroyed Diversity

This blog originally appeared in Counterpunch. 

The Supreme Court did not kill diversity. Higher education did it to itself. It has done it slowly and methodically over the last few years, as the corporate university created and then destroyed diversity as part of its business plan to attract students and make itself more relevant to American capitalism.

Many thought that the US Supreme Court’s 2023 decision in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard, which ended affirmative action, pronounced the death knell for diversity in higher education. The reality is that colleges produce the seeds for its destruction. Typifying this undermining  of diversity is a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article highlighting how many colleges are now advertising to students that they are  a school where everybody is just like you.

How did all this happen?

The history of higher education in America has always faced a contradiction.  On the one hand, universities have preached diversity as intellectual openness to new ideas, while excluding or segregating women, the poor, those of certain religions,  and people of color. Yet from the 1960s, partly as a result of the civil rights movement and of changing demographics in America, universities gave lip service to demographic diversity.   This resulted in affirmative action programs providing special consideration for women and individuals of color.

In the landmark 1978  Regents of California  v. Bakke, the Supreme Court ruled that while racial quotas were unconstitutional, the use of race could be considered as an effort to try to promote diversity. From that decision on, schools struggled with what it means to be diverse, how to promote it, and really, who would be the beneficiaries of it.  But for the corporate university, diversity rested less on a concept of fairness and equity than it did on both a way to expand its customer base and use the concept as a marketing tool to achieve that.

Who won from diversity?  In part because of the failures of K-12 to deliver an adequate and equitable education for students of color, the pipeline to college was racially constricted.  The main beneficiaries of affirmative action became middle class white females. Recruiting them allowed schools to “check the box” for diversity. Over the course of the last 50 years, higher education has transformed from being a male-dominated  to a female-dominated institution, with some numbers suggesting that more than 60% of those enrolled in colleges and universities are now female.   That has come at the expense of persons of color, whose numbers continue to dwindle, or at least remain stagnate, especially at some of the elite schools such as Harvard.

At the same time, the corporate university in its effort to boost enrollment and to define a niche for itself, has increasingly pitched its message to its students that it is a school that will specialize to the  particular needs of students in the same way businesses market to locate customers and maximize profits.  This narrowing of the focus of higher education comes at the same time that schools are deemphasizing liberal arts education. Liberal arts, at its best, was about exposing students to new and contrasting ideas. It was intellectual diversity that went beyond gender and skin color.

But liberal arts is expensive. It requires universities to staff a variety of courses and programs that are not necessarily high profit producing even though they are important for intellectual diversity. The narrowing of the perspectives of higher education has morphed into intellectual safeness and narrowness, protecting both conservative and liberal students from opposing ideas from which they disagree.

The result is that the real diversity that college universities are supposed to stand for—exposure to new ideas, different perspectives, and different people—has gradually eroded.

The business plan of the corporate university in its effort to save money has narrowed the intellectual scope and diversity of both the ideas that it offers and the students that it caters to.  The future of higher education increasingly looks much like the past of higher education.

Campus Protests and the Corporate University


This blog originally appeared in Counterpunch.

The murder of the four students who protested the Vietnam War at Kent State University on May 4, 1970, was a tragedy.  The suppression of student protests on campuses across the United States in the spring of 2024 is a farce. The latter points to how little college administrators and politicians have learned when it comes to students’ speech, thinking that repression is the solution for dissent and disagreement.

The student protests of the 1960s were born of political anger. Students were unable to vote. They lacked a political voice in American elections and politics, and they lacked a voice in the governance of their schools. They demanded a seat at the table, the right to be heard and some control over the institutions that literally dictated their lives. Their demands for a voice were met with force and repression much in the same way that the civil rights demonstrators who crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge  were.

College administrators first ignored student demands.  Then they sought to break up the demonstrations with campus police.  Politicians such as Governor Reagan in California, and Governor Rhodes in Ohio responded even more forcefully. They, along with President Richard Nixon, sought to capitalize on the protests politically and personally. They made political careers by running against challenges to authority, campaigning  as law and order candidates, claiming to speak for the silent majority, and labeling those who dissented as un-American.

A show of force was their solution across college campuses in America.  Eventually they called out the National Guard. The tragic result culminated in Kent State. Four Dead in Ohio as sung by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

Colleges and politicians should have learned the lessons of this mistake.  The lesson should have been that student voices matter, that students have a right to express their views, and  force is not a way to stifle or to address differences of opinion.

They should have also learned that universities are supposed to be socially responsible. They are or have become political institutions, not private corporations. They are socially responsible in the sense that they have responsibility to act ethically and act consistent with their values. Their values include free and open inquiry, disagreement, and debate.  They need to be responsible to their stakeholders, including their students, and they need to live up to the democratic ideals and values that they are supposed to be fostering.

But what we learned in the 1960s was that schools were also hotbeds of hypocrisy. That was the source of much of the campus unrest and protest in the 1960s.  Instead of fixing the hypocrisy, living  up to their values, and respecting student demands, higher education turned corporate.  Over a fifty year period schools thought they had learned how to address the dissent on campus. They adopted even more of a corporate structure, seeking a top down mechanism for trying to control curriculum, faculty, and students. They adopted speech and civility codes as a way not to encourage debate but as a tool to discourage views that they do not want to hear.

The corporate university turned itself into a  private good, forcing students to borrow tens of thousands of dollars and thereby discipline their behavior by the demands of the economic marketplace.  Moreover, the corporate university  created its own problem by not being neutral when it came to a diversity of viewpoints, favoring some as opposed to others. It created not a tolerance but an intolerance of certain types of speech. Moreover, as universities have become even more corporate they have built lofty endowments whose investments are oftentimes questionable and which gives donors  outsized influence upon  what administrators and professors can do.

Much in the same way that the students of the 60s criticized universities for the defense contracts they took and how universities furthered the Vietnam War, students today criticize endowments for supporting causes and issues of which they do not support.  They have legitimate grievances against both the US government’s support for a war they do not endorse, and also against universities  whom they see as complicit. They demand a voice, call for disinvestment, or simply want to express their disagreement.

Yet again politicians such as Donald Trump and Speaker Mike Johnson are denouncing the protests, calling for the National Guard to quell student  speech.  Yet again a sitting president seems unable or unwilling to  listen to the students.  Yet again another war will impact a presidential campaign.

This is more than a tragedy.  It is a farce.

Donald Trump's attorneys and the problem of perjury

This post originally appeared in Westlaw Today. 

Donald Trump's attorneys and the problem of perjury

2024 PRINDBRF 0243
By David Schultz, Esq.
Practitioner Insights Commentaries
May 08, 2024
(May 08, 2024) - University of Minnesota law professor David Schultz discusses the ethical dilemma Donald Trump's attorneys could face if the former president commits perjury during his New York City hush money business fraud trial.
There will come a point in Donald Trump's New York City hush money business fraud trial where his attorneys have to make two choices. The first is whether to put Donald Trump on the witness stand and to testify. The second choice for his attorneys: What to do if Donald Trump commits perjury? While both of these decisions entail risks, for Trump's attorney the second comes with significant ethical and legal problems.
While Donald Trump can be very persuasive he also distorts the truth. The Washington Post documented more than 30,000 lies or falsehoods1 while he was president of the United States. The Trump Organization was already found liable in 2023 for tax fraud2 in a previous New York court proceeding and earlier this year he was also found liable for fraud and assessed more than $355 million.3
While there may be no or few political repercussions for failure to tell the truth, there certainly is when it comes to testifying in court under oath for any person, including Donald Trump. False testimony is perjury, punishable as a criminal act under New York State law.4 Were he to commit perjury he would face a series of sanctions5 beyond those at issue in his trial.
But for his attorneys, there is a dilemma. What to do if they know he is going to, is likely to, or is committing perjury. What are their duties?
In general, both the American Bar Association's Model Rules of Professional Conduct6 and the New York State Rules of Professional Conduct7 addressed the issue of perjury in rule 3.3. Both make it an ethical violation "to offer or use evidence that the lawyer knows to be false." Rule 3.3 imposes upon attorneys an affirmative obligation to "take reasonable remedial measures, including, if necessary, disclosure to the tribunal" to correct the perjured testimony." Additionally New York State makes subordinating perjury illegal.8
When it comes to a witness that an attorney knows is going to commit perjury, the answer is simple — you do not let the witness testify. If one catches a witness falsely testifying the task of an attorney is to encourage the witness to correct the testimony or to take other appropriate steps to correct that testimony.
Finally, if after a witness testified and the attorney comes to know that the testimony was perjured, there is an affirmative duty by an attorney to correct it.
The problem is different with a criminal defendant. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a criminal defendant has a constitutional right to testify. The question is does the defendant have a constitutional right to falsely testify and potentially commit perjury? The answer according to the Supreme Court9 is yes. But the question is what should an attorney do?
As with witnesses, there are three scenarios.
If attorneys know that their client is going to falsely testify their first duty is to encourage them to tell the truth. But nonetheless, if the client insists on testifying falsely what should the attorney do?
One option suggested by New York State Rules of Professional Conduct and the ABA model rules is for attorneys to use what's called the narrative style. The client is called to the stand, sworn in, and then the attorney simply lets the defendant testify.
Of course, the narrative style sends a clear clue to the prosecution that perjury is being committed. Additionally, New York state rules say in some situations that defense counsel must inform the court prior to defendants testifying that their client may in fact falsely testify. If Trump's attorneys catch him falsely testifying on the stand or know afterwards of false testimony they too must take corrective action. Doing nothing is not an option.
When it comes to Donald Trump's trial, this is going to be a challenge for his attorneys. They are already under significant pressure from the judge to restrain their client and to encourage him to conform to the gag order and not obstruct the court proceeding. Increasingly the fear is that Trump's behavior may be so severe that it forces a mistrial thereby pushing a new trial into the distant future and perhaps beyond the election.
The judge's efforts have been directed mainly at Trump but increasingly the judge is also focusing on the attorneys who are expected to manage their client. There thus may be a point where if Trump decides to take the witness stand and if the attorneys take no action knowing that he is likely to or maybe committing perjury they face disciplinary action under the ethical rules in New York as well as possible prosecution for subordination of false testimony. Their choice then is let Trump testify and risk perjury for their client and risk ethical and criminal sanctions for them.
6 Model Rules of Pro. Conduct r. 3.3 (Am. Bar Ass'n 2023).
7 N.Y. Rules of Pro. Conduct r. 3.3 (N.Y. State Bar Ass'n 2022).
By David Schultz, Esq.