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Schmidt: America needs to restore its elements of predictability

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St. Louis Cardinals pregame ceremony

The Budweiser Clydesdales trot around Busch Stadium during the St. Louis Cardinals pregame ceremonies before the start of the home opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates on April, 7 at Busch Stadium.

There is beauty in predictability and stability. Predictability provides reassurance, increases confidence, builds trust, and can even bring comfort during difficult times. Our institutions, when at their best, can yield this kind of support.

Institutions are part of our social order. They can be a set of formal rules or informal norms. They provide shared understandings which can govern behavior. Institutions can also provide a sense of predictability and stability. Our institutions can be tremendously important during unstable times.

On June 24, my family and I had the pleasure of attending a St. Louis Cardinals game against the team’s longtime rival, the Chicago Cubs. I joined the 46,523 fans present at Busch Stadium in rising for the National Anthem. With the gentle nudge of “please rise” all of us rose, those wearing hats removed them, many placed their right hands over their hearts, and most joined in singing.

In the middle of the 7th, Cards and Cubs fans alike automatically stood up, even before the 7th inning stretch was announced. The screens played a clip of Jack Buck leading us all in “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Many in the crowd clapped along with the organ to “Here Comes the King “ also known as the St. Louis Cardinals Rally Song while a video of the Anheuser-Busch Budweiser Clydesdales lapped the field. Fans knew what to expect and participated accordingly. The game I attended was a wonderful example of a social institution and it was lots of fun, despite the Cardinals’ loss.

The day will not be remembered for the Cubs’ 3-0 win over the Cardinals. Rather, the date will be remembered due to the actions taken by another institution. June 24 was the day the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

No matter which side you find yourself on the abortion debate, the court’s decision made Americans feel quite wobbly. This came at a time when trust in our institutions was shaky at best.

According to Gallup, confidence in U.S. government institutions is down with the average at a new low. “Only 27% of Americans have a great deal of confidence in 14 major American institutions on average, a record low since 1979 and a 5% drop from 2021.”

Gallup adds: “A host of factors have fueled declines in Americans’ confidence in major institutions over the years, including the Iraq War, the Great Recession, partisan gridlock in Congress and Covid-19.”

The Gallup poll found sharp declines in trust for the three branches of the federal government: the presidency, the Supreme Court and Congress. Confidence in the Supreme Court also hit a record low of 25%, according to Gallup. The poll was taken from June 1-20, right after the leaked draft opinion showing the Supreme Court was most likely going to overturn Roe v. Wade. Congress wins the prize with the lowest level of confidence with only 7% of Americans saying they had a great deal or quite a lot of faith in lawmakers, also a record low.

The last few years have been challenging to say the least and Americans are unhappy. According to other recent polling by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research: 85% of Americans believe the U.S. is headed in the wrong direction. Americans seem to be craving some level of certainty and some steady leadership. From the standpoint of rebuilding our shaky institutions, the Roe reversal couldn’t have come at a worse time. But perhaps that was the point.

There are some things that could be done to strengthen our institutions and support our democracy. These could include expanding the House of Representatives. The House has one voting member for every 747,000 or so Americans. That’s by far the highest population-to-representative ratio among other industrialized democracies, and the highest it’s been in our history. It is difficult to imagine how someone could represent that many constituents effectively. The House was capped at 435 seats almost 100 years ago back in 1929.

Some other ideas would be to expand and/or apply term limits for the Supreme Court, pass the Electoral Count Reform Act Of 2022, pass a scaled down version of the Voting Rights Act, support other electoral reforms, fight back against gerrymandering, make Election Day a federal holiday, and consider making the District of Columbia a state.

After the last several years Americans deserve institutions that work for them and with them and can provide cohesion. These United States deserve that.

Lynn Schmidt is a Post-Dispatch columnist and Editorial Board member On Twitter: @lynnschmidtrn


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