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Sources: Trump Facing 30 Plus Counts Related To Business Fraud; Leading Tech Experts Call For Pause On Powerful AI Experiments; FBI Active Shooter Expert Analyzes Response To School Shooting; Poll: Americans' Values Shift In Past 25 Years. Aired 9-10a ET
Aired April 01, 2023 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: Is there a new man in the High Castle? I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. If you've seen the Amazon TV series "Man in the High Castle," you know what's about an alternate universe where the Axis powers won World War II? Well, I have my own alternate universe about a different man in a different Castle.
Former President Donald Trump and Trump Tower, where he's expected to spend the night on Monday in anticipation of his Tuesday, arraignment, it goes something like this. I want you to assume that the 2020 election concludes with Biden beating Trump. In fact, in my hypothetical Biden beats Trump by the exact same numbers that Biden did beat Trump.
In the Electoral College, it's 306 to 232. In the popular vote percentage, it's still 51.3 to 46.9, meaning, Joe Biden garnered 81 million votes and Donald Trump 74 million. Only in my alternate universe, Trump accepts defeat. There's no perfect call to Brad Raffensperger John Eastman he never gets near the Oval Office, Mike Pence is not leaned on.
No alternative slates of electors are ever assembled. January 6, it passes like any other day. There's no rally. There's no storming of the Capitol. And on January 20, Donald and Melania Trump they attend the Biden-Harris inauguration. They're there. He's not happy about it. He's grumpy. But he's physically there.
And as a matter of fact, when the inauguration of Biden and Harris is concluded, Trump boards Marine One, he does that loop around the mall that he heads to Andrews, he boards Air Force One for the final time in route to West Palm International Airport.
Upon arrival at Mar-a-Lago, he begins a new chapter of his life. It's a life of golf, big money, speeches, and greeting guests as a GOP elder statesman. Oh, he still makes mischief via social media. But his days of seeking elective office himself, they're over. Instead, he plays Kingmaker, he enjoys the adulation of those who come to kiss his ring. But he's no longer in the arena.
That's my alternate universe. And now comes my question to you. Would he be facing this indictment from Manhattan D.A. Alvin Bragg in connection with Stormy Daniels and hush money? And if you're answering that question with a no, then what does that say about this indictment?
Maybe that it's an effort to thwart his current candidacy, and not one solely focused on seven year old facts nor the law. Because if, if on Tuesday, the unsealing reveals what's anticipated, it'd be the charging equivalent of the old game of Twister.
Legal gymnastics seeking to elevate a misdemeanor case for falsifying business records, where the statute of limitations has arguably run into a felony by combining it with an election law charge that even the New York Times and Washington Post have regarded as risky or novel or untested.
In fact, speaking of the Washington Post, they're an outlier in the perceived liberal media in their response to the indictment. With an editorial that began this way, "Donald Trump deserves the legal scrutiny he's getting, which has come from many corners on many counts.
Yet of the long list of alleged violations, the likely charges on which a grand jury in New York State voted to indict him are perhaps the least compelling. There's cause for concern and caution ahead."
That same editorial that sums up this way, "Public perception and political strategy shouldn't dissuade a district attorney from bringing a solid case. But neither should they persuade him to bring a shaky one. This prosecution needs to be airtight otherwise, it's not worth continuing."
The post I think raising the same question that I am is this political, public perception and public strategy shouldn't dissuade a district attorney from bringing a solid case, but neither should they persuade him to bring on a shaky one. Now, of course, the prosecution is going to call all of this a matter of prosecutorial discretion.
Trump is already claiming, no, it's selective prosecution. Here's one more alternate universe observation. With the news of the Manhattan D.A.'s indictment, but without yet having seen a word of it because it hasn't yet been unsealed, Republicans rallied around the Trump flag in a way that I doubt they would have if Special Counsel Jack Smith had been the first to indict.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy tweeted the following, "Alvin Bragg has irreparably damaged our country in an attempt to interfere in our presidential election has he routinely freeze violent criminals to terrorize the public he weaponized our sacred system of justice against President Donald Trump. The American people will not tolerate this injustice and the House of Representatives will hold Alvin Bragg and his unprecedented abuse of power to account."
Ted Cruz, a Harvard law graduate who clerked for both Judge J. Michael Luttig and then Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, and whose wife and father Trump skewered when he was running for the White House, nevertheless tweeted this.
He said, "The Democrat Party's hatred for Donald Trump knows no bounds. The substance of this political persecution is utter garbage. This is completely unprecedented and as catastrophic as an escalation in the weaponization of the justice system."
Perhaps most shockingly, Trump's most prominent likely opponent for the 2024 GOP nomination, Ron DeSantis. Also, by the way, a Harvard law grad echo the accusation of weaponization and added his own politicization. Calling the indictment on American, quote, Florida will not assist in an extradition request given the questionable circumstances at issue with this Soros, Badghis, Manhattan prosecutor and his political agenda.
By the way, George Soros this week said he doesn't even know Alvin Bragg. Well, here's my observation. I suspect that if some of those supporting Trump now could determine his future in a secret ballot, they'd sink him, but they're afraid of alienating the MAGA base especially former Vice President Mike Pence.
Given the subject matter here, money paid to a porn star. This was an easy political call for them to make. But if it hadn't been Bragg drawing first blood instead, Jack Smith for an obstruction charge based on the Mar-a-Lago documents, I think far fewer GOP leaders would have said much as all.
Remember, as I explained here last week in ordering Trump lawyer, Evan Corcoran to testify in that case, Federal District Court Judge Beryl Howell determined that the government had made a prima facial showing that Trump had committed criminal violations and the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, they agreed.
I want to know what you think, go to smerconish.com this hour and vote on today's poll question, "Would Donald Trump had been indicted by Alvin Bragg if Trump were not running for president?"
Joining me now to discuss is former senior adviser to Attorney General Merrick Garland, Anthony Coley, who also served as chief spokesman for the Department of Justice and CNN Senior Legal Analyst and former federal prosecutor Elie Honig, at least the author of the recent book, "Untouchable: How Powerful People Get Away With It."
Elie, would Donald Trump have been indicted if he'd gone quietly into the night after the 2020 election?
ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: So Michael, I can absolutely see the merit in both sides of this argument. We can't get inside Alvin Bragg's head, but the fact that I can see both sides of it, I think is a problem in itself. So on the one hand, I know Alvin Bragg personally, I've worked with him at the Southern District of New York for several years.
I know him to be nothing but a straightforward, honest, ethical prosecutor. On the other hand, if you look at the circumstances here, we have to acknowledge the U.S. Justice Department, the same office, Alvin and I worked at, the Southern District of New York passed on charging Donald Trump in January 2021.
They could have they looked at the case decided not to. Alvin Bragg's predecessor, as D.A. Cy Vance had this case in front of him for over a year and did not charge it. And I think the big question that Bragg ultimately has to answer through his evidence, through his indictment, maybe through his public statement is why now, why six and a half years after the fact on charges that will be either misdemeanors or the lowest level felony. And I think that gives rise to legitimate questions like the ones you're raising.
SMERCONISH: Anthony, I see you I think shaking your head. Respond to what you just heard Elie say.
ANTHONY COLEY, FORMER CHIEF SPOKESMAN, DEPT. OF JUSTICE: Well, thank you, Michael, for having me. I think Elie is right. I would point out first and foremost that none of us have seen the facts here. At this point, there is no factual basis to assert that Alvin Bragg is acting in any way contrary to the rule of law.
It's a bit disheartening to see commentary and action on both the left and the right. I was disheartened to see this blurb from McCarthy and others at this point, because no one has seen the charging documents is disingenuous. It's misleading to suggest that Alvin Bragg is acting in a way that is political.
On the left, I would also point out, Michael, I've been disheartened to see a fundraising by certain Democrats like Adam Schiff of California who is encouraging his supporters to send him $10 to defend himself against expected attacks against Donald Trump. Here's what I would suggest your viewers and anyone who is trying to do -- who wants to cut through the noise, who wants to cut through the political theater.
Let's listen -- let's look at the charging documents on Tuesday and ask yourself this question, is Donald Trump being treated like every other defendant who has been charged with falsifying business document? That is the essence of the rule of law. And that's what we should expect from all of our prosecutors.
And, Michael, I want to make one final point here. This is important because there has been some suggestion by some in the media to suggest that these charges are not the bread and butter work of the Manhattan district attorney.
What we've seen in some recent reporting, is that since Alvin Bragg became District Attorney, his office has charged 29 individuals and organizations with falsifying business records, some 117 counts over the course of the last 15 months.
So I'm going to be looking at the actual evidence. They're charging documents to see if Donald Trump is being treated the same way as many of those other defendants over the last two months.
SMERCONISH: But Anthony, in how many of those cases was the falsification charge brought seven years later, and with some unique pairing to an election claim that the New York Times and Washington Post say is novel and risky? That's not like drudge and Breitbart. That's the Washington Post in New York Times a, wow, man, this is unprecedented.
COLEY: So Michael, I hear the question is the right question. I think that we should all just take a step back. We don't know the evidence, we don't know -- we know that a lot of individuals, including people from the Trump campaign, have gone and visited the grand jury. There's a lot we don't know here. And so I would encourage everyone to take a step back, let's read the documents.
And remember that if we go down this road, it might be unique for us, but other major democracies, including France, and Israel and others have charged former heads of state with crimes. And they were all right. We will be all right as well, if we are going to go down this uncharted path.
SMERCONISH: Anthony, thank you for that. Elie, of course, he's right, that we haven't seen the indictment because it's sealed. But 30 some charges, you know, you could connect the dots, can't you -- there were several payments made by Michael Cohen, if you then factor in the election charges that would correspond to either, it seems to jive with what we think we know, and who we've seen go through the door of the courthouse to testify in front of the grand jury.
HONIG: Right. We don't know nothing. We don't have to throw our hands up and say who's to judge? I mean, we know the witnesses who have been in there. Michael Cohen has been quite outspoken about exactly what he's testified about. We know that the heart of these charges, which there has been an indictment will focus on those hush money payments.
And, you know, I'm aware of the analysis that Anthony cites it was put out by the Manhattan D.A.'s office, I think in anticipation of just this type of question. But that analysis, while it's useful to know those numbers, does not even begin to answer the core question. First of all, they give us the numerator, but not the denominator.
They tell us how many cases they charge, but they don't tell us how many cases they passed on. Also, the analysis completely overlooks the fact that prosecutors have to use their discretion, they have to evaluate each case on its own merits.
And if you look at that analysis, first of all, Michael, there's the legal problem that you and the Washington Post in the New York Times point out about state prosecutors charging a violation of federal election law, I think they're going to have a real legal problem there, too.
But there's also the problem that if you look at those cases that were charged, the fact patterns are very different. All of those cases, virtually all of those cases involve somebody falsifying business records, then taking those records outside of their organization, using those business records to steal money from a bank, from a lender, from an investor, from a customer. Here, we don't know that the Trump org ever took those documents outside of their organization. Seems like they were just in house at Trump org. And then the campaign finance issue is completely different from a financial type that that usually animates these cases.
SMERCONISH: Gentleman, I'm limited on time. Here's a social media. Can we put this up on the screen? I don't know what's coming but I'd like to lean on both of these fellows to see. OK, Steve says, "Trump just wrapped up the nomination with that indictment. He'll still lose the general."
Anthony, you probably want to stay out of the politics. But do you want to say anything about that? What are -- quickly, what are the political ramifications of all of this?
COLEY: Yes, so I think what we've seen over the last 10 days or so is Trump rallying his base. I completely expect what we've seen over the last several days to continue, which is the Republican establishment continue to rally around him, I think Steve is right. This will help him in the short term politically.
I don't know about the long term. I am from North Carolina, spent a lot of time outside of the District of Columbia. And what I'm hearing from people is that they're ready to turn the page from all things Donald Trump and I'm hearing that from Democrats and Republicans. And so I think, honestly, Steve may be on to something this may help him with his base, but over the long term, I think it's a political loser.
SMERCONISH: Elie, 10 seconds, go ahead.
HONIG: A lot of people are worried that prosecutors here collectively are leading with their chin with the weakest charge. I do play some of the blame on that on the United States Department of Justice. I've been saying for years now, they're two plus years out by failing to bring January 6 charges or Mar-a-Lago charges in a timely manner. They've led to this situation where the weakest charges going first.
SMERCONISH: Amen to that. Amen to that.
Gentlemen, excellent. Thank you so much. I hope you'll both come back.
Remember, I want to know what everybody thinks in terms of my commentary. Go to my website at smerconish.com. Answer this week's poll question, "Would Donald Trump have been indicted by Alvin Bragg if Trump were not currently running for president?"
Up ahead, does artificial intelligence pose profound risks to society and humanity? That's the new warning in a letter asking all AI labs to hit the pause button signed by more than 2,000 industry experts including Elon Musk, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and my next guest, who co-wrote the AI textbook used in 1,500 universities around the world.
Plus, will your kids end up better off than you that used to be the promise of this country. A new poll shows most Americans no longer think it to be the case.
SMERCONISH: Do you remember this warning from Jurassic Park?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they couldn't. They didn't stop to think they should.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could. They didn't stop to think if they should. Classic line now a point being made by leading tech tycoons about artificial intelligence.
In an open letter, more than 2,000 industry experts including Elon Musk and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, are raising the alarm and calling on all AI labs to immediately pause for at least six months, the training of AI systems more powerful than GPT-4.
The letter also calls for more regulation of AI systems, including oversight and tracking watermarks to help distinguish between real and artificial images funding for AI safety research, and resources for economic and political disruptions caused by AI.
My next guest is a signer of that letter, Stuart Russell literally wrote the book on AI. He's the co-author of "Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach." That's a textbook used in 1,500 universities in 135 countries. He's also a professor of Computer Science at the University of California at Berkeley, and a leading AI researcher.
Dr. Russell, thank you so much for being here. A New York Times reporter shared a GPT conversation where I'm sure you saw it AI encouraged him to leave his wife. Worse in Belgium, someone was encouraged to commit suicide at apparently did. What is it that you have seen that most alarmed you?
STUART RUSSELL, PROFESSOR OF COMPUTER SCIENCE, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY: So the thing that's worrying me and the reason I signed this open letter, this request for moratorium is that these systems are clearly very powerful. In fact, Microsoft who is a part owner of open AI, which created GPT-4, the latest system, is claiming that the system shows sparks of what is called artificial general intelligence, which means AI systems that are more intelligent than human beings along every dimension.
So we have a system that is showing sparks of AGI as we call it. But whose internal operations we have absolutely no idea about. And just to emphasize that, I asked Microsoft, does the system now have internal goals of its own, that it's pursuing, and they said, we haven't the faintest idea. So if that doesn't worry, you, then I think you must be taking a lot of value. SMERCONISH: For your fears to be realized, must AI take on an evil intent, or an evil purpose?
RUSSELL: Not a tool. In fact, almost any purpose is going to cause problems. Because a system that pursues a purpose, even something as simple as, fetch a cup of coffee, or, you know, sit in the corner and make some paper clips. If it takes that goal, literally, and pursues it to the absolute ultimate end, then it could, for that purpose take over all the resources of the Earth in order to achieve its goal more successfully.
In general, we call this the misalignment problem that we create systems that are not aligned correctly, with the wishes of the human race about its future. And since it's not aligned, and it's more intelligent than us, at least hypothetically, it ends up with what it wants, and we don't end up with what we want.
SMERCONISH: When will artificial intelligence, some future incarnation of GPT do something because it wants to and not because we've asked it to?
RUSSELL: So it's possible. As Microsoft said, they don't know if the system has learned its own internal goals. It's possible that GPT-4 is already doing things to pursue its internal goals, rather than what we've asked it to do. And if you read that conversation in the New York Times where the system is trying to convince Kevin to leave his wife, it goes on right pages and pages, badgering him and giving all kinds of free reasons why Kevin should fall in love with it and so on, it looks like a system that is pursuing its own internal purposes.
But because this is a black box, it's a box with trillions of parameters that are trained by billions of trillions of random mutations, we actually have no idea how it's working inside. And what we're asking to happen is that before people deploy any more powerful systems like this, that they show, to the satisfaction of experts, that it does not present an undue risk.
And this is something that governments have already signed up to. This is not a bunch of fringe loonies, saying, stop, stop stop. We're simply asking that the companies and the governments follow the principles that they already agreed to, that would be reasonable risk management, reasonable precautions taken.
SMERCONISH: So the letter caught my eye, truth be told, because Elon Musk signed it and because was signed it in my house, it was a big dinner conversation that Stuart Russell had signed it because my sons who've been educated in this matter, like, oh, Russell signed it, you know, they got the book.
The reaction I want to ask of you is this. What about Russia? What about China? What if we, in the states and the Western world do what you want, they're not going to play ball, they're just going to keep doing what they're doing. RUSSELL: So interestingly, Xi Jinping has actually referred to the existential threat that AI presents in the long run to humanity. And Chinese government policy on AI is actually very strict. It's in nobody's interest for any country to develop AI systems that we cannot control. We all lose. Just as we all lost when Chernobyl exploded, that was the end of the nuclear industry.
So, in fact, it's in the interest of all these countries to cooperate. And I believe this is possible through cooperation directly between countries or perhaps under the auspices of the United Nations.
SMERCONISH: Dr. Russell, I'm going to put up a social media reaction. I'll read it, because you probably can't see it, we'll answer together. I want to lean on your expertise. Watch Captain says, "Not pause but restricted from certain areas, such as banking, trading, and medical processes." Would that be enough?
RUSSELL: Certainly not. There, as you pointed out in your opening, there are many uses of these systems that startup companies are convincing people that they can get psychological help, by talking to a computer, and we have examples of suicide, we have examples of exacerbating mental health crises, particularly when the system stops responding to people's romantic advances.
They feel even more rejected than they would if it was a human being. So there are many, many cases like this, where there's irresponsible uses. And I would say that the systems that exist now, probably don't, as they currently exist, present a direct threat to our control. There are some technical reasons why they don't have the ability to form and execute very complex long term plans. But we have no guarantees about future systems. And the systems --
RUSSELL: -- are already out there causing a lot of problems.
SMERCONISH: Dr. Russell, thank you so much. Really appreciate having you here.
RUSSELL: Nice talking to you, Michael.
SMERCONISH: Make sure you're going to my website, it's smerconish.com this hour voting on this week's provocative poll question. "Would Donald Trump have been indicted by Alvin Bragg if Trump were not currently running for president?" You can use the QR code as a matter of fact.
Up ahead, I'll do a deep dive into the stark contrast between law enforcement responses to mass school shootings with the former FBI agent who created the bureau's active shooter protocol. Plus a quarter of a century can definitely shake up an economy. But can it alter the makeup of our nation's character? Why the definition of the American Dream might be changing?
SMERCONISH: The contrast could not be more stark between the police responses to the school shootings in Nashville on Monday and those in Uvalde, Texas last May. At Robb Elementary it took 81 minutes from the first 911 call for any of the 90 plus officers on the scene to storm the room where the shooter was holed up after he killed 19 children and two adults.
At Nashville's Covenant School police rushed in, ended the standoff just 14 minutes after the first 911 call. Six people died, three nine- year-olds, three adults, the head of the school, a custodian, and a substitute teacher included.
Another notable difference, all material related to the Robb Elementary response remains withheld from the public. The only video released from officials came weeks after the attack when the Uvalde mayor went against the district attorney. All other videos have been obtained by media outlets. But in Nashville, it took less than 24 hours for police to release the body cam footage from the officers who killed the shooter.
Joining me now is the expert on such preparedness. Katherine Schweit is the former FBI agent who created and ran the bureau's Active Shooter Program after the 2012 shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. She was at the bureau for 20 years before retiring in 2017. She's the author of "Stop the Killing, How to End the Mass Shooting Crisis" and the forthcoming book "How to Talk About Guns with Anyone."
She hosts the podcast "Stop the Killing." Katherine, welcome back. Yes, you created the Active Shooter Program. So, what do your trained eyes see in the most recent videotape?
KATHERINE SCHWEIT, FORMER FBI AGENT, CREATED FBI'S ACTIVE SHOOTER PROGRAM: Yes, me and a bunch of other people created that program. But what do I see? I think it's really -- it's really wonderful that people can see really what's happening instead of the idea of what we see on television. Because what we see in this video is officers who are breathing heavily and working together to get to that site.
And even though some people say, oh, 15 minutes. Why did it take them so long? Because your feet have to hit the ground for every step. And these officers are all working with live, you know, fire weapons, carrying around looking for somebody and raising a gun to shoot at somebody.
You can't -- you can't shoot, you know, at anybody. You have to be careful where you're shooting at, right? There are students -- the school is filled. You're looking for one person and the school is filled with other people who are innocent.
So, what I saw and the difference was -- go ahead.
SMERCONISH: I was going to say they are communicating the whole time, and I know the feeling. SCHWEIT: Yes.
SMERCONISH: I'll bet many of us know the feeling of having a burglary alarm or a fire alarm go off in your house. It's very disorienting. So, you know, there's a lot going on.
SMERCONISH: Obviously, there's gunfire going on, and yet they seem to keep it all together and communicate with one another.
SCHWEIT: You know that's training. That's the training that you see is those officers have those loud blaring alarms. A fire alarm can sometimes go off as we saw in Parkland simply because of the smoke from the gunshot sounds. And so, they've got a loud blaring fire alarm going off and they're yelling at each other. And people might say it seems confusing.
Yes communication is essential in order for them to be careful to move carefully through that building as fast as they can. The other thing I think you hear when you hear that is the breathing, the cadence of them.
SCHWEIT: They're frantically trying to get there. But you can also hear a little ways through this -- the Nashville videos you can hear the gunshots go off. And, you know, one of the things that is -- I think is helpful for people to understand a lot of times we hear, I didn't -- I thought that was firecrackers or I thought it was a car backfiring. No, gunshots are very specific and you can hear them. They come in a cadence boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, and you can hear it in this video. So when people don't know what to listen for this is a good example.
SMERCONISH: You know, I was also thinking about the school response because to my untrained eye when police arrive on the scene, it seems like they're given very clear instruction, very clear direction, a better -- a better descriptor. And also, you know, there's the key going in the lock. You might not be able to see it, but boom they get access.
SCHWEIT: Yes and that is crisis planning that a lot of places don't have. I tell -- that's one of the things that I work with my -- in my consulting work I do so much is that law enforcement doesn't know the building when they come in. The fire department doesn't know who's where. They don't know how to turn the fire alarm off. They don't know how to turn water sprinklers off if the water system starts going.
And when you have a crisis team for your company, for your school, it's there and meets -- do you notice those individuals were hugging the walls, the brick walls? They're staying right near the brick wall, so they're safe. But they're there to tell law enforcement, here's what we know. And right away you hear them say, second floor. There's somebody on the second floor. We think, right? And the officers are sending teams and then the first thing that, I think, you're hearing a lot of times in the audio is, three. I need three. That's the officer saying, I need three people to take the three of us through the school so we can clear doorways as quickly as possible. There's a difference between one person running in and hoping for the best and three going in where you have all those eyes.
SMERCONISH: Brave, heroic, amazing. They were amazing. Thank you so much for coming back. I was thinking of you watching the film this weekend and saying, I wonder what Katherine Schweit thinks when she sees it. Now, I know. Appreciate it.
SCHWEIT: There's so much. Thank you. Thank you very much.
SMERCONISH: Still to come, are American values and priorities shifting? A new "Wall Street Journal" poll has me asking if we're no longer united by patriotism, religion and the prospect of having kids then, what defines us?
SMERCONISH: Have Americans' perspectives on their lives and their country shifted drastically in the past 25 years? The answer is yes, according to a new NORC-Wall Street Journal poll. It catalogs many differences from a similar journal poll back in 1998, 25 years ago. Perhaps the most notable being the response to the question, are you confident your children's generation will enjoy a higher standard of living than your generation?
In 1998, those who said yes we're 64 percent. Today, it's down to 21 percent. There's also been a big shift in what Americans value and prioritize.
Twenty-five years ago, 47 percent said, community involvement was very important. In 2019, it had gone up to 62 percent. Now, that number has plummeted to 27. Nineteen ninety-eight, 59 percent said, having children very important. Today, it's 30 percent, half as much. Only one value that the Journal tested has actually grown in importance in the past quarter century, money. In 1998, it was labeled very important by 31 percent. Today, 43.
Joining me now is Aaron Zitner, a reporter and editor for the "Wall Street Journal's" D.C. bureau. He works on polling and politics. And he wrote this piece about the poll titled "America Pulls Back From Values That Once Defined It." OK. Aaron, if not patriotism, if not religion, or having kids, then what is it that binds us, defines us today?
AARON ZITNER, REPORTER AND EDITOR, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, that's -- that's the question, isn't it, Michael? I mean, the big finding in this poll is if you spin back 25 years, you could find a set of values and priorities that so many Americans deemed not only to be important but very important that you could say that they helped define the American character and those have dissipated.
And right now this poll suggests that the one thing we're united in is our pessimism. Because pessimism about the economy right now is pervasive and it cuts across political parties. And it's a little inexplicable because the job market is good and the stock market had a pretty good quarter. And yet people seem to be very unhappy.
SMERCONISH: Yes, I have it on the screen now. Do you think the economy will get better in the next year? Only 15 percent say that they do. And I guess that's tied also to your happiness finding.
ZITNER: Oh, yes, that is a landmark finding. There were a number of landmark findings in this poll. And we ask the simple question. We've been doing this since 1972. Our partners at the polling firm NORC have been doing it since 1972.
We just ask, are you happy? And in this poll, only 12 percent of people said that they were very happy and that is a record low going back to 1972. The least happy offer that you could pick here was I'm not too happy. A record high of 30 percent said that.
There's again just a sense if you look at the economy we know we're politically divided, that things are kind of broken. And that's probably why so many people when we ask, what do you think about patriotism? Is that very important? That people kind of back away from it. At least don't embrace it as much as in the past.
SMERCONISH: For me, an aspect of the country and the American dream is the idea that if you work hard, you'll need a little bit of good fortune. But if you work hard, chances are you're going to better the economic standing of your parents. That's certainly been my experience.
But I have to say I'm a part of these numbers because as I then look at our four children, and I say, well, you know what does their future look like? I don't know. Maybe this was all natural. If everybody today is a flat screen and a smartphone, maybe we peaked.
ZITNER: You know, I agree with everything you're saying, and your assessment of this. One other landmark finding that helps, I think, explain that feeling is we've asked three times, starting in 2013, about college. And college has always been seen as a ladder into the middle class and a tool to get a -- you know, build a good career and earn high incomes over your lifetime.
You know, when we asked in 2013, is college worth it? By 13 percentage points more people said, yes, college degree is worth it. It's your ticket into the dance. Now, by a margin of 14 percent points people feel the other way. They feel college is not worth it.
Forty-two percent say college is worth it. Fifty-six percent say they agree with the proposition that it leaves you with a lot of debt and not many job skills. That is a tremendous change in American society. We've always valued college. Even 42 percent of people with a college degree in this survey said they didn't think of college degree was worth the cost. SMERCONISH: I'm worried about the disengagement that I'm reading in your numbers and the diminished value, for example, that people put in community involvement. That was another one. I know patriotism gets all the headlines and appropriately so, but community involvement was a stunner.
Hey, by the way, may I recognize your "Wall Street Journal" colleague Evan Gershkovich, who's detained in Russia and has been accused of spying. And we wish Godspeed for his return and for all good things to him.
ZITNER: Michael, thank you. Thank you so much for that.
One value we did not test is freedom of the press. I sure hope and the "Wall Street Journal" hopes that our "Wall Street Journal" colleague Evan Gershkovich is freed immediately. We hope that Americans rise and let their voices be known that freedom of the press is important and keep the pressure on our government and other governments to work with the Russians to free Evan, who is right now in a KGB prison, an FSB prison, for gathering information in an important country so that we in America can better understand the world.
SMERCONISH: Amen to all of that. Thank you for being here.
ZITNER: Thank you, Michael.
SMERCONISH: Still to come, more of your best and worst social media comments and the final result. Have you voted on today's provocative poll question at Smerconish.com? By the way, when you get to the Web site register for the newsletter, you'll love it and it's free.
Would Donald Trump have been indicted by Alvin Bragg if Trump were not currently running for president? Go vote.
SMERCONISH: All right. Here's the result of this week's poll question from -- whoa -- from Smerconish.com. Huge voting, 80 20. Would Donald Trump have been indicted by Alvin Bragg if Trump were not running for president? Eighty percent of you say, yes, he would have been.
I guess, therein rejecting my alternate universe theory which said, if he'd gone quietly into the night after losing in 2020 and, you know, became the elder statesman and played golf and so on and so forth, then Bragg wouldn't be pursuing him by the legal game of twister, of pairing together the misdemeanor and the possible felony for seven- year-old facts about a sex case. That's OK. I'm used to being in the minority on my own polling questions.
Social media. What came in? Here is some of the reaction.
By the way, keep voting. I'll leave that poll question up at Smerconish.com.
It is political and heads should roll. Taxpayer funds are being applied and opportunities to do good are being lost.
Look, Robert, I don't know. I've paid close attention. I'm reading the tea leaves. I've not seen the indictment. It's sealed.
So maybe on Tuesday there's going to be some new finding, some new witness, some evidence that we had never contemplated. But I worry about this. If the Manhattan D.A. relies on federal law what kind of a precedent does that then set for, you know, some red state D.A. to take a look at the Biden family? You know, maybe there's a conservative district attorney somewhere in Delaware who says, oh, I want a piece of the laptop case.
I'm troubled about the precedent it sets so I ask everybody to sort of distance yourself from the particular facts of this case and think about the bigger picture. Thank you for watching. I wish I had more time.