How Americans see civility and trust in today’s politics


JUDY WOODRUFF: But first, we examine the results from our latest PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll, the president's continued attacks against the media, and the battle over health care on Capitol Hill.

It's time for Politics Monday with Tamara Keith of NPR and Stu Rothenberg, senior editor at Inside Elections.

And welcome to you both on this day before the Fourth of July. Thank you for wearing red, white and blue.


JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Tam, the White House is saying they fully expect that some version of a reform plan that the Republicans like is going to pass the Senate, going to pass Congress.

What does your reporting tell you?

TAMARA KEITH, NPR: It's possible, though, at the moment, Mitch McConnell has described the effort to find a health care bill that 50 Republicans can support in the Senate as like working with a Rubik's Cube. Like, you move one piece, and then some other piece moves out of the way.

It's a very delicate negotiation that's happening right now. It's not clear that they will get there. Some of the Medicaid tests that were just discussed in the last segment are a hangup. There are other hangups for more conservative Republicans.

But they are highly motivated to get to a win, and so you can't discount the motivation that exists to find a way.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Stu, I think I have you asked this question before, so what is the calculus? And if you're a Senate Republican, what are you thinking?

STUART ROTHENBERG, Inside Elections: Yes, I think the choice is not passing anything, or passing something that's going to be broadly unpopular, but is going to find a lot of support from within Republican and conservative circles. That's the choice.

And for most Republicans, I think for most Republicans strategists, campaign strategists, passing something is a strong imperative. It's , you have to do something for the base, even if you risk alienating the larger electorate.

For individual members, that has different equations. For somebody like Lisa Murkowski in Alaska, Susan Collins, Rand Paul, Rob Portman, they have their own considerations, ideological or state-based.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But it still looks, Tam, like it's really hard to square the circle or circle the square.

TAMARA KEITH: Yes, at this point, it does look that way, but you know what?

It kind of looked that way in the House, too. It looked like it was a dead bill, so we were calling it a zombie bill. And then next thing you knew, boom, they passed it. They came up with a compromise that didn't seem to materially change anything, and yet it passed, and they were able to move it over to the Senate.

And so, you know, don't declare this thing dead. It could be back.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So maybe, Stu, where there's a will, there's a way.

STUART ROTHENBERG: And where there's a Mitch McConnell, there's always a possibility.


JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, so let's talk about something else, and that is, Tam, back to the president's tweets. He's tweeted I guess a couple of times about health care, but he's tweeted a number of times about the news media.

Last week, it was the cable show hosts Mika Brzezinski, Joe Scarborough. But yesterday there was this new tweet where it was sort of an edited video of the president pummeling a man on the ground, we're showing it here, with CNN over his face.

How do we interpret this?

TAMARA KEITH: There are many ways to interpret it, but, you know, President Trump, as a candidate and now as a president, to use the wrestling analogy, he wanted a heel. He needs a heel. He needs a foe.

And, you know, he has decided that the media is going to be his foe, his heel in this wrestling match that is his presidency. And so, I mean, that image, that video is a pretty perfect description of the way he is approaching this.

Having that fight, having that feud really excites some people who support him. Now, there are others who are turned off by it and, you know, we could go down the road of the dangers of having a video that looks like it is encouraging violence against members of the media, but it works for — this is the same Donald Trump who ran for president and won.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How does it advance his cause now?

STUART ROTHENBERG: Yes, first of all, I think Tam is exactly right on this. I would just add two things.

One is, it advances his cause by mobilizing and motivating his base. They love it when he attacks the media. They really think it's exciting and they agree with him. And I'm sure we will talk about how the media is not held in the highest regard.

Second of all, he enjoys it. It's all — look, let's remember, Judy, he did that in that wrestling show. He actually did that. It's his ego. He wants to be the center of attention. He wants to be the focus of everything. And I think he just has a lot of fun when he does that.

And for Donald Trump, it's more fun to do that than to actually get into the weeds in public policy.

TAMARA KEITH: And I was talking to Republican consultant today who was like, yes, it's a distraction, but maybe it's a welcome distraction, because if the people are talking about his tweets and talking about WrestleMania, then they aren't talking about Medicaid cuts.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, of course, there's been the role of a free press in a democracy, one of the pillars of our form of government in this country. But we can — we could talk about that another time.

I do want to raise in our last few minutes this new CNN — I'm sorry — I had CNN on the brain from the video — the new poll that the NewsHour and NPR did in conjunction with Marist, where, one of the things we looked at, Stu, exactly what you mentioned, high distrust of the news media.

More than two-thirds of Americans, they were asked, what do you think about trust in institutions? And here it is. Thirty-seven percent, a good deal or a great amount of trust in the Trump administration, 30 percent, even less, trust in the news — in the media, and 20, about on same par as trust in Congress.

And you go on to see trust in the intelligence community, twice that much, 60 percent, and in the courts, 60 percent.

But the bottom line here, Stu, is that the media may be a good whipping boy.

STUART ROTHENBERG: Yes, and I think the public sees the media as a political institution, just as they see the White House, the president and Congress.

And, right now, nobody trusts politicians or people covering politicians. It's a horrible trend. I look back at the Gallup numbers in the early 1970s, and those of us in the media are regarded much worse than we were back then. But it's been occurring over the last couple of decades.

TAMARA KEITH: Republican Senator Ben Sasse over the weekend said something that goes in conjunction with the tweets and fits with these numbers too.

He said he was concerned that the president was trying to weaponize distrust. And then here's the quote: "We are at risk of getting to a place where we don't have a shared set of public facts. The republic will not work if we don't have shared facts."

These numbers are part of a very long trend of institutions losing trust from the American people. And that puts America at risk.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Very quickly, in the last 30 seconds, I want to show our audience and you this — the other question in the poll.

Since President Trump was elected, has the overall tone and level of civility in Washington gotten worse? Seventy percent. Stayed the same, 20 improved, 6.

Stu, I guess no surprise here.


Some people actually see what they want to see. Strong Republican — 17 percent said that it improved. And white evangelicals, 10 percent had — they said improved. But the overall sample is very clear and, in fact, very correct. Things have deteriorated. They're coarser. They're more vulgar. It's not a time of better tone.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we are glad to promote civility here at the NewsHour.

Stu Rothenberg, Tamara Keith, thank you both.

TAMARA KEITH: You're welcome.


JUDY WOODRUFF: And you can find more about these findings from our joint PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll. And that's on our website,

The PBS NewsHour/ NPR/ Marist College Institute for Public Opinion poll contacted 1,205 U.S. adults using landline and mobile phones between June 21 and June 25. There is a 2.8 percent margin of error.

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