Intellectual Honesty

Today is primary Election Day in Indianapolis, so at some point this evening we will know the identities of the major party candidates for mayor of the city, and for City-County Council.

I’ve previously noted my concerns about the Republican campaign commercials urging more policing and less oversight as the remedy for (massively-exaggerated) urban crime, and as I was reviewing some files I’d kept, I came across an opinion piece from the New York Times that is particularly relevant to that approach.

The essay was by David French, who describes himself as a “conservative independent.” French left the Republican Party in 2016, “not because I abandoned my conservatism but rather because I applied it. A party helmed by Donald Trump no longer reflected either the character or the ideology of the conservatism I believed in, and when push came to shove, I was more conservative than I was Republican.”

The essay grappled with a question that has become much more salient in our highly partisan debates: Are instances of police misbehavior attributable to “bad apples”? Or do they signal deep and systemic problems with American policing?

French notes that our answers to that question reflect a massive partisan divide.

Every year Gallup releases a survey that measures public confidence in a variety of American institutions, including the police. In 2022, no institution (aside from the presidency) reflected a greater partisan trust gap than the police. A full 67 percent of Republicans expressed confidence in the police, versus only 28 percent of Democrats.

Why do Republicans and Democrats see the issue so differently?

The instant that a person or an institution becomes closely identified with one political “tribe,” members of that tribe become reflexively protective and are inclined to write off scandals as “isolated” or the work of “a few bad apples.”

Conversely, the instant an institution is perceived as part of an opposing political tribe, the opposite instinct kicks in: We’re far more likely to see each individual scandal as evidence of systemic malice or corruption, further proof that the other side is just as bad as we already believed….

There are good reasons for respecting and admiring police officers. A functioning police force is an indispensable element of civil society. Crime can deprive citizens of property, hope and even life. It is necessary to protect people from predation, and a lack of policing creates its own forms of injustice.

But our admiration has darker elements. It causes too many of us — again, particularly in my tribe — to reflexively question, for example, the testimony of our Black friends and neighbors who can tell very different stories about their encounters with police officers. Sometimes citizens don’t really care if other communities routinely experience no-knock raids and other manifestations of aggression as long as they consider their own communities to be safe.

French points out that whenever authority is combined with impunity, corruption and injustice will result. That’s as true of institutions on the Left as on the Right.

The police, after all, possess immense power in American streets, often wielded at the point of a gun. Yet the law systematically shields them from accountability. Collective bargaining agreements and state statutes provide police officers with greater protections from discipline than almost any other class of civil servant — despite the fact that the consequences of misconduct can be unimaginably worse. A judge-made doctrine called qualified immunity provides powerful protections against liability, even when officers violate citizens’ civil rights. Systemic police corruption and systemic abuse should not have been a surprise.

As French admits, he was surprised. He came late to the recognition that his reflexive defense of the “rotten apple” theory was wrong.

The lesson I’ve taken has been clear: Any time my tribe or my allies are under fire, before I yield to the temptation of a reflexive defense, I should apply my principles and carefully consider the most uncomfortable of thoughts: My opponents might be right, my allies might be wrong and justice may require that I change my mind. And it may, in all likelihood, require that I do this again and again.

This admirable example of intellectual honesty–the willingness to question one’s own assumptions and be guided by evidence rather than tribalism–is all too rare on both sides of the political divide. Good public policy–and good public officials–result from dispassionate analysis of evidence, not from a reflexive defense of our political “team.”

Here in Indianapolis, I guess we’ll see after the polls close whether pandering to what French calls the  “darker elements” of the Republican admiration for police pays off….


  1. To be honest, I just remembered there was an election last evening. There aren’t any races that I know of, and I never received one piece of literature. Maybe in the Fall, I’ll bother myself.

    When you peel behind the curtain and gaze at the oligarchy funding the two political parties (as Einstein told us to do in the 40s), the collective differences/similarities make sense. How can two parties appear so diabolically opposed come together on war and spending on war?

    The Republicans rattled their peaceful swords but backed down since we are launching an offensive against the Chinese. Who’s in charge? Congress or the Military-Industrial Complex?

    So, they retreat to battle on social issues because the oligarchy decides economic issues, and if you’re not looking at the hegemony divide taking place along with the de-dollarization, you’ll miss what’s coming despite socialism for the oligarchy.

    There is a battle between education, and as far as I can tell, the unions and the Republicans aren’t doing what’s best for the kiddos. We need to be on par with our Scandinavian comrades on education and other things.

  2. Not being aware of the primary election, and perhaps voting in the General is exactly why we’re in this mess. The gerrymandering has made voting a waste of time in the minds of many. We must throw out the bums. The minority reigns because the majority sits idly by.

  3. Building on yesterday’s post, here is another example of how education provides the key to unlocking our potential for rational thought and behavior. Intellectual honesty can be taught. We can learn to override our more automatic impulses and biases. And we can then learn the value of doing so.
    Socratic questioning is a great method for doing this but it can’t be accomplished in a classroom of 30 unruly youngsters and one harried teacher who is forced to teach to some content-based test.

  4. “Why do Republicans and Democrats see the issue so differently?”

    Democrats ask; “Will this issue help the majority of Americans who need this help?”
    Republicans ask; “Do we really need to spend money on those people?”

    “I’ve previously noted my concerns about the Republican campaign commercials urging more policing and less oversight as the remedy for (massively-exaggerated) urban crime,…”

    I must admit I have little faith in protection by the police in my area but they are at a severe disadvantage regarding our current historical record of shootings and the high death toll. This will sound racist but the facts can be seen on our local news programs; the majority of the shootings are in primarily Black areas and are caused by personal differences and the ease with witch guns are readily available, legally and illegally. More than 30 YEARS ago Sam Jones, Director of the Indianapolis Urban League, went public to beg Blacks in Indianapolis to please stop killing one another. Police can do nothing but clean up the mess as best they can after tempers have flared and violence erupted and the guns are fired.

    This nation has relied on Gallup Polls and others which claim to reflect the human elements basic views on issues we need to be aware of. Has anyone on this blog, however old you are, wherever you live, whatever your religion, culture, race or sex may be; have you ever been asked by Gallup or any other poll your view on anything? Those people being polled have an effect on all of us without our input or knowledge of who is asking and who is answering.

    The Primary Election here today has only three items to cast our vote for, but each one is vital to the future of our lives and living conditions in this Democratic county in the middle of one of the brightest red Republican states in the nation. Who will be the Democratic Mayoral candidate, who will be the Democratic City Councilor candidate for our neighborhood and what will the answer be to another tax increase for our public schools? Whatever your political affiliation your views on issues may be; please VOTE using your “Intellectual Honesty”.

  5. JoAnn, When I lived in southern Illinois I got at least one call a week from some polling place. It was everything from rate my favorite laundry detergent to the big political questions. I always thought this was because of the lack of cell phone service there, and that the area was covered by a phone book. Back here in Indy I have yet to get one such call. Fun part of this is that most of the political polling was directed toward Republicans. I had great fun answering those calls.

  6. Under normal circumstances, I would agree with Wayne, but in my case, there are NO contested races in the primary. None. Nada.

    That’s why none of those candidates running bothered to run a campaign. What’s the point?

    If pollsters track “momentum,” they better factor in “no contests” to get more accurate results. Why should voters waste their time if the politicians didn’t waste their time?

  7. Todd, I’m in Hendricks County, which is no longer liberal, but the right wingers have eeveryone buffaloed. Brownsburg, Plainfield and Avon all doubled and doubled again in population in the last 30 years, and most of those pelple were young families moving to Hendricks County were young couples starting families, typically college educated, and of course that means they were mostly sociall at least somewha3t liberal, and a majority also fiscally liberal. And here in Brownsbrug where I live we only he three people on the ballot, all republicans.

  8. Anne – they are young; they believe all politicians are about money and power, not their needs; they are busy with work, family and having fun.

  9. Maybe Indiana Republicans want the police force they can command at their whim… you know, like Hitler’s Gestapo. More policing and less oversight? Perfect for the fascist overthrow of democracy. I hear Ron DeSantis wants to do the same thing in Florida. See the pattern?


  10. Elections should and used to be about answering the question: Which person has the combination of experience, character, and demonstrated results, to be the best of the choices offered, to fill the job indicated, for the most people of the country? In the absence of any relevant information about the race, a default choice that was always available was to vote the party that you most frequently agree with and were probably registered as.

    Now that virtually all campaign information comes to us as advertisements on entertainment media we apparently are less informed so more make the default choice rather than the informed choice. Paradoxical.

  11. Vernon is right. It would interesting, and possibly dismaying, to know what fraction of US state and local police and military officers are of the MAGAte/far right persuasion. Were we to lose trust, justifiably, in both… well there goes liberal democracy.

  12. I plead guilty to being a tribalist, but with this qualification – that I do give thoughtful consideration to Republican arguments on issues of public concern the better of which arms me to sharpen my views for the debate(s). On the other hand and to be brutally honest, it could be that my “thoughtful consideration” is a cover for an innate prejudice that even I neither understand nor appreciate.

    Whatever the brain search, I am unlikely to abandon my tribalist views in the real world I inhabit, being persuaded that the tribe’s views on the issues of the day are correctly held – and that’s the bottom line.

  13. We live in Marian County, Indiana. Ample notice and literature sent to our home. You can vote at any of the open polls. Presentation of license ID brings up your profile and the applicable ballot printed. Voter location fully manned and all smiles. Voting was a pleasure.

  14. Point of personal privilege…what is wrong with the Hamilton County Democratic Party? Democratic share of the vote in Fishers is up to about 45%. Four years ago, Democrats won 2 Fishers council seat (and could have won more if they ran candidates in all the races). Democrats could win the Fisher’s Mayor’s race yet they can’t find a candidate?

    I began working in the Pike Township GOP in 1986. Back then the township was 2-1 Republican. But even though we were slaughtering the Ds every year, the Ds made a point to run a candidate in every race in the township. Every election, the D candidates in Pike Township would get more and more of the vote until the 2000 election when the Ds became the majority party in Pike Township. (By the way, Pike is now 2-1 Democratic, the most Democratic township in the county. In contract to the D’s approach when they were in the minority, the R’s often leave races uncontested in the township.)

    The No. 1 job of a political party is to recruit candidates. The Ds are not getting slaughtered in Fishers and the other cities in Hamilton. They literally are knocking on the door and yet they can’t find candidates. Unbelievable. Not sure who the D county chairman is in Hamilton County, but he or she should be fired.

  15. “The lesson I’ve taken has been clear: Any time my tribe or my allies are under fire, before I yield to the temptation of a reflexive defense, I should apply my principles and carefully consider the most uncomfortable of thoughts: My opponents might be right, my allies might be wrong and justice may require that I change my mind. And it may, in all likelihood, require that I do this again and again.”

  16. This did not come in with my comment:
    “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” Paul Samuelson, receiver of the Nobel Prize in economics, 1970.

  17. Am I the only one who wants to throw a brick at at my television when Jefferson Shrieve’s obnoxious commercial comes on, claiming that Indianapolis used to be “shiny”, along with photos of past Republican (only) mayors breaking ground on various projects? Then he claims we have descended into chaos and “we shouldn’t have to live this way”. What “way”? Where are the riots and chaos? The claim about Indianapolis having more violent crime than Chicago has been debunked, but he keeps claiming it anyway. How does owning a moving a storage company (a relatively passive sort of business) qualify this clown to run a diverse city with multiple challenges? In addition to pandering to fear, he claims that hiring more police and paying them more will solve all of our problems. Does he think people in Indianapolis are this stupid, or what?

  18. While getting bombarded with Shreve campaign ads, I question who exactly is paying for the media ads that have to cost hundred of thousands to run. Pandering to the new trope of the GOP, showing nothing but alarmist propaganda about crime and how wonderful it used to be while completely ignoring the fact that his party controls much of what happens in the capital city through the General Assembly. He touts his business background but tells us nothing about how he intends to pay for new policing, ignoring the fact it takes 2 years to recruit and train a new officer. When the General Assembly and the Governor have created the current conditions of an armed camp without any restrictions, he had better be talking to his own about accountability. We know that he is just parroting the latest propaganda being used all over the country, pitting rural (mostly white controlled) notions of safety against the mostly blue islands of urban diversity, all while starving those places of funding for education, mental health care and infrastructure maintenance.
    The playbook is not new just reaching its logical conclusion, divide and conquer. They never acknowledge that the end result is autocracy, white male Christians in charge.

  19. Shreve scares me as much as Trump or DeSantis. I specifically voted Republican last week so that I could vote to get him out of the race. Didn’t work, but at least I tried.

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