MSNBC’s Chris Hayes explains why the public overwhelmingly supports the military

Jeff Poor Media Reporter
Font Size:

When he’s not biking across the Brooklyn Bridge in order to save the world from global warming, MSNBC “Up” host Chris Hayes is psychoanalyzing society and why it functions as it does.

That’s the theme of his new book, “Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy,” which he was promoting at the Politics & Prose Bookstore in northwest Washington, D.C., on Monday night. One of the questions posed to Hayes was about the military and the public’s support for it — an issue Hayes has probably thought about since he stumbled into a controversy by questioning if it was proper to call dead soldiers heroes.

“I think the military is trusted because people’s frustration, anger, disappointment with the military engagements are directly rightly I think at their political leaders,” Hayes said.

“So I think people have divided between the political leaders that have brought us into the longest period of war in the republic’s history and the people that are asked to fight it,” he said. “I think that is true. I think the populace — I think it shows up in public opinion. I mean, how else do you explain the gap between the fact that people don’t like the Afghanistan war. They hated the Iraq war by the end of it and yet during that same period of time, the military is the only institution to gain trust.”

“I think also there are two more aspects to this,” said Hayes, elaborating. “First I think from the sheer perspective of confidence the military has performed quite well in this decade in so far as they have done what we have asked of them.”

But, he reminded the audience about Abu Ghraib, a cruise missile strike in Yemen he claimed no one knew about and drone strikes that he said have moral, ethical and legal issues. Other than that, Hayes said the military performs with a degree of competence, unlike other institutions.

“That cannot be said of say — the banks,” he said. “I mean, just look at it that way, right? The banks are just supposed to do this thing where they take deposits and lend out money and they totally, totally, totally, totally screwed that up. That’s not the case for the United States Armed Forces.”

Hayes added that Americans appreciate the military because its members shoulder a burden many don’t wish to bear, and that people therefore feel better about themselves by telling pollsters that they support the military.

“There’s tremendous social distance between the elites in American life and the Armed Forces,” he said. “And this is just an empirical statement of the fact of the percentage of members of Congress who are veterans, the percentage of those who are in the upper income echelon or high levels of education obtainment, in terms of what percentage of them enroll. And I think that has something to do with it to because I think there can be a kind of — the distance, people make up for that distance by telling pollsters they trust the institution.”

“There’s this kind of bargain in the conversation that we have in American life that basically says, you know — there’s a very small group of people that are going to bear this burden, a very small group as a percentage of the population,” he continued. “And Afghanistan barely makes the headlines now. And so part of the way I think we deal with this great cultural unease about that status quo is to say, ‘Yes, we trust the military,’ because it lets people off the hook from the very difficult process of grappling with the fact that we are asking a very, very small group of people relative to the entire population to bear a very, very heavy burden.”

Follow Jeff on Twitter