Morality and Corruption

  • How society is becoming more moral, not less;
  • How the press covers politics;
  • Quick takes on the Republican Party as a racket, and the laughable impeachment of the Biden family as “corrupt” by supporters of Trump and his family.

OnlySky, Jonathan MS Pearce, 18 Sep 2023: We are becoming more moral, not less. So why all the moaning to the contrary?

My interest here is how he claims we are becoming more moral. By what criteria?


The idea we’re going to hell in a handcart still persists. Apparently, we’ve been on the way for millennia. I’m not sure we’re any closer.

He begins by stipulating society is becoming less religious. Statistics have suggested that for some time. Thus some say we’re becoming less moral, because less religious. Is that true?

There are several ways to cast doubt on the notion that we are morally backsliding. First, we have always thought this. The idea that we are going to hell in a handcart because of the moral decay that has gotten hold of society is a ubiquitous trope witnessed through history and geography. I could point you to the lessons from the Hebrew Bible in Micah 7.

And in 2 Timothy 3, and when Socrates complained about “kids these days” so to speak. These are all variations of the “good old days” bias, the negativity bias about the future. I’ve discussed this many times.

And the argument is circular, equating religion with morality. The writer also discusses how “skewed our perceptions can be from reality,” e.g. about crime statistics. (As I’ve discussed before with Rosling and Duffy.) Everyone thinks crime is worse, even when it isn’t. Again, our perceptions are warped by news media, especially the conservative outlets, who live to scare you. And by neighborhood apps like NextDoor.

OK, but what’s the evidence that we’re becoming *more* moral? Well, the flip side of the perception of crime: it’s actually reduced, ergo we’re more moral. And this, from a recent article (doubtless this one’s inspiration), Society becoming less moral? Far from it! by Humanists UK:

The truth is that, despite all its problems, and accepting that new problems arise and will continue to arise all the time in every society on Earth, life in the UK is still – recent global political and economic turmoil aside – in a much better shape now than in any previous era of history.

That goes doubly for ethnic minorities, for LGBT people, for people with disabilities, and for people with mental health conditions or any variety of neurodivergence. The public today is more concerned with human rights, and with equality of both outcome and opportunity, than at any other time in British history.

Don’t let the naysayers have you fooled by a factitious picture of moral decline, holding up all the most troubling statistics on the Government’s list of problems-to-deal-with as their ‘proof’.

Because if there has been a moral or social change in the British public writ large, it has been the enlargement of our moral compass, the widening of our empathy, and a growth in the public’s commitment to fairness and justice.

Echoing Steven Pinker, of course, and many others, including Barack Obama (Now Is the Greatest Time to Be Alive, at Wired).


Here’s a piece on how the mainstream press covers politics in the US, in ways it doesn’t cover politics in other countries.

The Guardian, Margaret Sullivan opinion, 15 Sep 2023: With democracy on the ballot, the mainstream press must change its ways

This is partly about Christiane Amanpour, long-time global reporter for CNN:

Last week, as she celebrated her 40 years at CNN, she issued a challenge to her fellow journalists in the US by describing how she would cover US politics as a foreign correspondent.

“We have to be truthful, not neutral,” she urged. “I would make sure that you don’t just give a platform … to those who want to crash down the constitution and democracy.”

Ways the American press is failing its responsibilities (excerpting):

  • News organizations have turned Biden’s age (granted, a legitimate concern) into the equivalent of a scandal. In story after story, headline after headline, they emphasize not his administration’s accomplishments, but the fact that he’s 80. …
  • The evidence-free Biden impeachment efforts in the House of Representatives are presented to news consumers without sufficient context. …
  • Trump continues to be covered mostly as an entertaining sideshow – his mugshot! His latest insults! – not a perilous threat to democracy, despite four indictments and 91 charges against him, and despite his own clear statements that his re-election would bring extreme anti-democratic results; he would replace public servants with the cronies who’ll do his bidding. …

The writer asks, “So, how can the press do better as the election approaches?” And identifies “the big problem and the big solution.”

The big problem is that the mainstream media wants to be seen as non-partisan – a reasonable goal – and bends over backwards to accomplish this. If this means equalizing an anti-democratic candidate with a pro-democracy candidate, then so be it.


The big solution? Remember at all times what our core mission is: to communicate truthfully, keeping top of mind that we have a public service mission to inform the electorate and hold powerful people to account. If that’s our north star, as it should be, every editorial judgment will reflect that.

Headlines will include context, not just deliver political messaging. Overall politics coverage will reflect “not the odds, but the stakes”, as NYU’s Jay Rosen elegantly put it. Lies and liars won’t get a platform and a megaphone.

And media leaders will think hard about the big picture of what they are getting across to the public, and whether it is fair and truthful. Imagine if the New York Times, among others, had stopped and done a course correction on their over-the-top coverage of Clinton’s emails during the 2016 campaign. We might be living in a different world.

Echoing my recent citations of Paul Krugman:

The Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman pointed out last week that the media apparently has failed to communicate something that should be a huge asset for Biden: the US’s current “Goldilocks economy”. Inflation is low, unemployment is low and there’s virtually no hint of a recession. But many Americans, according to surveys, are convinced the economy is terrible.

Is this the fault of the mainstream media? I’ve mentioned how small a percentage of the population reads newspapers, or watches “mainstream news.” I suspect it’s more a problem of social bubbles amplified by social media, a situation much more difficult to solve than simply mollifying mainstream media coverage of politics.


Quick Takes:

NY Times, guest essay by Sam Rosenfeld and Daniel Schlozman, 18 Sep 2023: The Republican Party Has Devolved Into a Racket

Mentioning Kevin McCarthy’s impeachment inquiry, and efforts in Wisconsin and North Carolina to disempower Democrats:

Together these depict a party that is preoccupied with antics that crash into the guardrails of American political life and conspicuously lacks a coherent, forward-looking vision for governing. A modern political party has devolved into a racket.

The country needs a right-of-center party. But today, as the G.O.P. has lost a collective commitment to solving the nation’s problems and become purposeless, the line separating party politics from political conspiracy has frayed. Mr. Trump, in this way, is the product more than the author of that collective party failure.

As I keep saying: the Republicans aren’t interested in solving problems, or even stating what they’re *for* — only what they’re against.


Washingon Post, Paul Waldman, 18 Sep 2023: Opinion | The GOP wants to impeach Biden for ‘corruption’? Don’t make me laugh.

Republicans are not characterizing their impeachment push against Biden as an attempt to bring strict ethical standards back to government. There’s no high-minded talk of integrity, moral rectitude or the solemn obligations of public service. That’s because they are in the midst of a years-long crusade to convince the public to not care about corruption.

That crusade is only partly about defending Trump, perhaps the most shamelessly corrupt president in U.S. history. He installed his laughably unqualified family members in White House positions. He spent a good amount of time in office at his various resorts, charging the Secret Service as much as $1,185 a night per room to stay there to protect him. His Washington hotel became a destination for anyone who wanted to put some money directly in his pocket; foreign governments spent millions of dollars there, as did a fleet of Republican candidates and party flunkies. Foreign governments also eagerly gave special favors to Trump’s businesses. His relentless advocacy for the government of Saudi Arabia while in office was followed by the Saudis giving son-in-law Jared Kushner $2 billion for his start-up private equity firm, even though the Saudis’ own investment advisers found Kushner’s operation “unsatisfactory in all aspects.”

It’s hard for any American, inclined toward one side of the political divide or the other, to evaluate these claims objectively. But the rest of the world does.

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