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Politics

A once-optimistic nation has become deeply pessimistic about the future

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(LAT)

Washington has spent the past week consumed with the expectation that Robert S. Mueller III will soon wrap up his nearly two-year investigation of the Trump administration and Russian interference in the 2016 election.

More on that in a moment. But since Mueller’s report hasn’t been filed as of this writing, let’s jump past the immediate headlines for a moment.

The invaluable Pew Research Center has produced a new report this week on what Americans think the country will be like in 2050. Such studies don’t tell us much about the future — none of us do well at prediction — but the numbers tell us a lot about the present and its discontents.

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ANXIOUS, PESSIMISTIC WHITE PEOPLE

Americans used to be known for their optimism, but after a decade and a half of war, economic recession and deep political division, gloom pervades the people’s view of the future.

As Pew’s researchers summarized, “majorities of Americans foresee a country with a burgeoning national debt, a wider gap between the rich and the poor and a workforce threatened by automation.”

“Majorities predict that the economy will be weaker, healthcare will be less affordable, the condition of the environment will be worse and older Americans will have a harder time making ends meet.”

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While some of the pessimism focuses on economic concerns, a lot appears rooted in the changing makeup of the country’s population.

Many whites, especially white Republicans, worry about the prospect of losing majority status by 2050, as demographers predict. Anxiety about the coming shift to a majority-minority country strongly correlated with voting for President Trump in 2016, and Pew’s numbers suggest it’s strongly driving attitudes about the future, as well.

Nearly half of white Americans, 46%, said that having a nonwhite majority would “weaken American culture and values,” Pew found. Fewer than one in four whites said the change would strengthen American culture and values, while 30% were neutral.

Among Republicans, the vast majority of whom are white, about six in 10 said the shift would weaken American customs and values, while about one in eight said it would strengthen them.

Democrats were about twice as likely to foresee a strengthening (42%) than a weakening (22%). Similarly, blacks and Latinos were about twice as likely to see the change as strengthening the country’s values.

Asked flat out whether having a nonwhite majority would be good or bad for America, 37% of Republicans said bad, while 47% said neither and 16% said good. Among Democrats, 50% said the change would be good, 37% said neither and 12% said bad.

Overall, white Americans divided almost evenly when asked if they were optimistic or pessimistic about the nation’s future. Blacks and Latinos were optimistic by more than 2-1.

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Pew surveyed 2,524 adults in a nationally representative sample conducted online Dec. 11-23. The margin of error for the full sample is 2.5 percentage points in either direction.

SUPPORT FOR ACTIVE GOVERNMENT, BUT ...

Pew also found that nearly nine in 10 Americans say they are “very” or “somewhat” worried about the ability of political leaders to solve the country’s problems.

That doesn’t mean Americans don’t want government to try, however. By roughly 60% to 40%, the public worries more about the government doing too little than interfering too much.

Providing high-quality, affordable healthcare to all Americans topped the list of things the public thinks the federal government should do to improve the lives of future generations. More than two-thirds of American adults, 68%, put that as their top priority, while only 12% categorized it as a low priority or something the government should not do.

Unsurprisingly, Democrats overwhelmingly supported that goal. Among Republicans, however, opinion split. Among more affluent Republicans, those with family incomes above $75,000, 38% put expanded healthcare as a high priority, but among those with family incomes $30,000 or below, 62% called it a top priority.

Americans were far less likely to put a priority on two other issues that partisans often focus on. Just 44% put a top priority on reducing the gap between rich and poor, a major issue for activists on the left, while only 39% put a top priority on avoiding tax increases, which for years has animated Republicans.

Among Democrats, the top priorities for the federal government were providing high-quality, affordable healthcare to all Americans (83%), dealing with climate change (69%), increasing spending for education (66%), reducing the gap between the rich and the poor (58%) and increasing spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (56%).

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For Republicans, reducing the flow of immigrants who enter the U.S. illegally topped the list at 65%. Lowering the national debt (57%), avoiding tax increases (50%), providing healthcare to all Americans (48%) and increasing spending for education (36%) followed.

WAITING FOR MUELLER

Officials have told reporters to be ready any day now for news that Mueller has filed a final report with Atty. Gen. William Barr.

The only thing likely to become public on the day of that filing, however, is a letter saying that Mueller has submitted a report. The report itself almost surely will not be made public for days or perhaps weeks.

A lengthy tug of war between the White House and Congress could take place over what to keep secret. And, in the end, the final report may not shed a lot of new light.

If you’re expecting a detailed accounting of new facts, like Ken Starr’s report two decade ago on President Clinton’s sexual encounters with Monica Lewinsky, you’ll almost certainly be disappointed. The rules governing Mueller’s investigation are much stricter than those that Starr worked under, in large part because leaders in both parties came to believe that Starr went overboard.

But as Del Wilber and Chris Megerian wrote, we already know a lot about what Mueller has found because of the extensive indictments that he has filed.

Meanwhile, search warrants that were made public in federal court this week provided new details about the investigation of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, Megerian reported.

FIXATED ON MCCAIN

Trump went to Ohio this week, ostensibly to tout job creation. He visited a plant that, David Cloud reported last year, churns out tanks which in the past the Army has said it doesn’t really need.

But Trump couldn’t keep focused on his topic. Instead, as Eli Stokols and Noah Bierman wrote, he veered into a lengthy tirade against a dead rival — the late Sen. John McCain.

Why Trump has such a fixation on McCain remains a mystery: jealousy, perhaps; his mistaken but firmly held belief that McCain played a major role in sparking the Russia investigation, maybe; anxiety over his own lack of wartime service, possibly.

Aides, who almost all believe the attacks hurt Trump politically, have largely given up trying to get him to stop. They’ve been more successful on another front, as Jennifer Haberkorn wrote: Trump has curbed attacks on other Republicans. He has yet to lash out at the Republican senators who voted against his national emergency declaration, for example.

LOOKING AT THE DEMOCRATS’ HISTORIES

Howard University played a big role in shaping Sen. Kamala Harris’ identity. Evan Halper took a detailed look at that chapter in Harris’ life.

Janet Hook examined the public record of former Vice President Joe Biden. His 40-year career includes many positions that don’t match the Democratic Party’s current stands.

As Biden prepares to launch his presidential campaign — an announcement seems likely at some point in April — a key question will be whether Democratic voters will hold that history against him.

And Sen. Bernie Sanders opened up a multiday swing through California by joining a picket line at UCLA to highlight his longtime support for organized labor, Melanie Mason wrote.

All those candidates are focusing a lot of attention on Iowa, which will kick off the primary voting season — although not for more than 10 months yet. Mark Barabak looked at how Iowa is shaking up its caucus system and why that matters.

UNACCEPTABLE RISK

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller wrote in two internal memos obtained by Molly O’Toole that repeatedly deploying troops to the border has forced delays in training and repairs that pose an “unacceptable risk” to the readiness of the Corps. Democrats eagerly seized on the disclosure.

The Pentagon has continued to hide any final list of military projects that it could tap to pay for Trump’s border wall. As Sarah Wire wrote, Defense officials gave Congress a long list of projects that might be used, but didn’t specify which were actually on the chopping block.

DRILLING THE STATES

The administration is moving forward on another Trump priority, increased offshore drilling for oil and gas. As Anna Phillips and Rosanna Xia reported, the administration plans to limit the ability of states to slow or stop development offshore, and alarms are ringing in California.

ORANGE COUNTY’S DEMOCRATS

A fight over offshore drilling could be a boon to the recently elected Democratic members of Congress representing Orange County. The issue has helped Democrats in the county as far back as the late Sen. Alan Cranston in the 1970s.

As Sarah Wire reported, the four newly elected Democratic lawmakers have carved different paths while seeking to consolidate their holds on their districts.

One of the state’s dwindling number of Republican lawmakers, meantime, went off on an odd tangent, Wire reported: Rep. Devin Nunes sued Twitter over parody accounts that made fun of him.

Legal experts said the suit faced tough hurdles. Its immediate impact was to vastly increase the audience for one of the parody sites, @Devin Nunes’ Cow.

JEOPARDY FOR IMMIGRANTS

The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld federal power to detain and deport immigrants for long-past crimes, David Savage reported. The 5-4 ruling split the court along partisan lines, with Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for the majority, saying that the law gives the government broad power to detain immigrants without bail, even if their offenses took place years earlier.

The court’s liberal members seemed more likely to prevail in a case argued this week that involved a Mississippi prosecutor’s efforts to keep blacks off juries in a murder case against a black defendant who was tried multiple times. In addition to the four liberal justices, Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. seemed inclined to toughen the rules limiting so-called peremptory jury challenges.

HITTING HUAWEI, BOOSTING BIBI

Major U.S. research universities are cutting ties with Huawei, the giant Chinese telecom company, Don Lee reported. They’re responding to pressure from the Trump administration, which argues that Huawei’s software could pose a national security threat.

The administration is doing its best to help a friend, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who faces a tough election next month. As Tracy Wilkinson reported, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo flew to Israel to give Netanyahu’s campaign a boost. Then, Trump announced on Twitter that he wants the U.S. to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

IS GOOGLE BIASED?

Robert Epstein, a psychologist from San Diego, has become a favorite among conservatives because of his claims that Google search results unfairly steer voters to the left. And, as Evan Halper reported, even researchers who disagree with Epstein’s conclusions say he’s raising legitimate issues about the company’s lack of transparency on how its algorithms work.

LOGISTICS

That wraps up this week. Until next time, keep track of all the developments in national politics and the Trump administration at our Politics page and on Twitter @latimespolitics.

Send your comments, suggestions and news tips to politics@latimes.com.

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David.lauter@latimes.com

@davidlauter


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