Has Our Political Divide Shredded Our Shared American Values?

I’ve had the rare privilege of being able to be in the Eastern Time Zone so that I can experience the news as it happens in real time. Usually I am consuming the news twelve hours later. So, I have sat before my TV and computer watching, listening, and reading the events of the past week: the G-20 fiasco, the Ol’ Pussy Grabber allowing Putin to grab him and America by the pussy, the emails and confession of Don Don.

I watched NBC‘s Meet the Press on Sunday. Chuck Todd was dancing around the issue of shared American values, so of course there was no meaningful discussion much less anything even remotely resembling an answer. But, it brought to the forefront of my mind what I’d always thought were shared American values.

I had a curious conversation with a conservative gentleman from California in a bar in South Korea about ten years ago in which he wondered why his tax dollars should go to help a junkie in NYC. He was unimpressed when I pointed out that we are all Americans and that we should help each other when we are in need. He also claimed that there was no discrimination against Hispanics in California, too, so there’s that. I was struck by how the thought of helping other Americans as a responsibility of Americans seemed so foreign to him. He seemed to distinguish between people who deserved help and those who didn’t being American wasn’t enough.

Shared Values

I will list the ones I remember from my primary and secondary education. Let me know if I missed any in the comments:

  • One person, one vote
  • Universal adult suffrage
  • All people are created equal
  • All Americans have equal protection under the law
  • No person, including the president, is above the law (thanks Nixon for making that one necessary to articulate
  • We do not discriminate on the basis of race, creed, ethnicity, or national origin
  • Freedom to worship and assemble
  • Freedom of speech
  • A free press

Many of these values are articulated either in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, or the Preamble to the Constitution.

Values Through Actions

In psychology, we look at what people do as much as, if not more, than what they say they do. Actions speak louder than words. So, are these the American values that we live today? Have we ever lived them?

Are we really free from discrimination no matter what our race, creed, ethnicity, or national origin is? I don’t think we are. The social sciences have amply documented discrimination based on these qualities and more.

Are we all equally protected by the law when there is a demonstrable bias in arrests, prosecutions, and convictions? Are we even working towards ending discrimination and equal protection?

With demonstrable efforts to suppress the vote by various states and now the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT! as verified by federal courts. Okay, the current Kobach rape of voting rolls and data to sell to the Russians so they can further control our elections.

Do we have freedom of religion when the federal government is seeking to ban people of a religion from entering the country? Do we have freedom of religion when states are passing so-called religious freedom bills that allow businesses to discriminate based on religiously held beliefs. To be clear, businesses can refuse service to anyone, thus the familiar no shirt, no shoes, no service signs that you see occasionally. What you can’t do is enter the free market and deny service to a class of people, so you can’t have the sign no blacks, no Muslims, no women. A class of people are groups distinguished by characteristics that are more fundamental and difficult to change.

Do we have freedom of the press when the president regularly attacks the press as being fake and dishonest?

Since we are a democracy, we can probably all agree that one person, one vote is a fundamental value. But, when we have an entire party effectively minimizing the interference with our elections perpetrated by the Russians, can we claim the vote as a value we share? When we have an entire party working to suppress the vote by restricting registration, can we claim the vote as a value we share? When we have an entire party working to gerrymander a permanent majority, can we claim the vote as a value we share? When we have an electorate so apathetic that we celebrate 55+% as large turnout, when 33% of eligible voters couldn’t vote because they couldn’t get time off work, can we claim the vote as a value we share?

What are our shared American values? What are the values that we as Americans all share? Because we don’t seem to share much across the political divide nowadays. We can’t even come together when our country has been attacked.

9 replies »

  1. I disagree Larry. Or at least partially. When we used to watch the news journalists didn’t give their opinions. They stated the facts based on three or more sources. I’m not saying there weren’t government cover ups or that bigotry didn’t exist, but my generation fought hard for change and things progressed. Great changes were made in this country and bigots cowered in the corners because it was unacceptable behavior. The tea party turned that around and 45 capitalized on it. Now I see division among my own generation (The peace and love generation of the 60’s.) it’s as if many of the men sold out for corporate jobs and the real radical fighters are now my female contemporaries. Middle aged women fighting for equality, for gun safety, for minorities, for healthcare and on and on. The women’s march is proof enough of that. Gloria Steinem said (and I’m paraphrasing) That men become more complacent with age and women become more radical. No, we have gone back a century in time and worse than bigotry is this complacency with ignorance and corruption. I protested in 67, 68 and into the 70’s. But I never thought I’d have to do it again to protect my grand children. This is not the country I grew up in. Intelligence and education was valued. Honesty and kindness and helping my neighbor was too. I dont recognize my country. Since this election we’ve
    become the laughing stock of the world. That has never happened in my lifetime.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh Lesley! I so agree with everything you said here. We are the laughing stock of the world. The G20 meeting was an embarrassment. But, it is the aggressiveness and callousness of the discourse that concerns me most. We were able to legislate better behavior in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, but, as I said earlier, those protections are being rolled back and in some places were never in place. Part of our problem is that the Gen Xs and Millennials have never had to live without their privilege. Instead of deepening the empathy that we began with the Civil Rights legislation, we have stymied it with indulgent consumption. And, we have never pushed back on the belief that you have to deserve the material goods you have. I explored many of these themes in my series on the Stooge Voter, also referenced earlier in comments.

      I hadn’t heard the Gloria Steinem thing, but it is exactly right. Men lose their fire as they age. Women get angrier and begin to realize their real power and influence. I’m reading a lot about evolution and evolutionary psychology, so I tend to see things that way, but it does strike me as being linked to reproduction and child rearing. After the children are more independent, women can be more active in life away from camp. That’s not quite right, but something like that. But, the update is that with the pill, women are no longer tied to reproduction. Their lives can be more planned. Their pregnancies more predictable. It gives them more independence. Where are our fights? Abortion, birth control, women’s amoral sexual behavior, LGBTQ rights (those people aren’t breeders), immigration. But, we don’t need to be so concerned about reproduction nowadays because of our successes in besting our environments. It is the conservatives who are having trouble adapting to this brave new world. That’s another blog post.

      Half the battle for me as a blogger is just organizing my thoughts around these ideas and then finding references for them.

      Thank you for your thoughts. It is very inspiring and has served as inspiration and a sounding board.


      Liked by 1 person

      • We are on the same page, Jack! You must be an old soul! I agree with your comments about millennials and Gen-X. Most appear to be totally arrogant, self absorbed, and CLUELESS!!!
        During the 2016 campaign I asked my youngest son why so many of his peers were total idiots! LOL (My sons are aged 44 and age 28. Both are the products of two marriages and two divorces.) Now my younger son is affectionately referred to by my older son as “Mom Junior.” Both sons were tested in school and put into gifted classes ( Classes for students who test in the top 1 or 2 percent intellectually nation wide.) BTW, I figure since they had different fathers they much have gotten their brains from moi. LOL. 🙂 Anyhow, my younger son is right brained, played in a rock band, did theatre, writes screen plays, and majored in film in college and now works in the movie industry and just got into the director’s guild. My older son, while artistic and creative and extremely amazing, is very logic driven and things to him are either black or white.He’s usually pretty conservative, however he is terrified by 45.

        But getting back to your reference about young people and their lack of empathy… when I asked my younger son during the 2016 campaign why many people his age didn’t want to vote for Hillary or were not bothered by Trump, he put it simply. He told me that the majority of them had everything handed to them on a platter and that they were self absorbed and selfish. He said most still lived at home with their parents, and when they were in college they didn’t have to worry about paying their own way, and they, quite simply were lazy. He, on the other hand, couldn’t rely on his parents for much in the way of finances, and had to face the music early on. Luckily, he got the Bright futures scholarship and several other academic scholarships along with being an advanced placement scholar (which meant when going to away to college he got college credit in high school for almost two years of classes before he even entered University). But my point was, he still had to study, work, and stay focused in college or he would lose all the scholarship money and therefore he didn’t have time to party all the time during college. He KNEW his education depended on his GPA. Not to say he didn’t have fun, but he was a serious student. And then during his senior year his father got pancreatic cancer and died. And so he grew up rather quickly. (He still graduated Magna Cum Laude with all of that going on.) I questioned him more about millennials and he told me that most of his contemporaries were pretty much still acting like teenagers and don’t really stop and think about how health care will affect them because their parents are paying for them. He said they are nice people, just clueless. Also, since I had him at 40, he is keenly aware of having a mother who is now a senior citizen. And he saw what his father’s illness did to us financially. We lost our home paying for bills not covered under the school board insurance. So he learned as a young man to prepare and beware!!!
        He bought a home at 24, sold it at 27 and made a large profit and bought another one when he moved to Atlanta for the film industry.
        To sum it up, he stated that unless young people have some kind of traumatic experience they generally cannot relate to life’s difficulties. They were oblivious to aging illness,loss of a parent, healthcare challenges, etc..And when I asked why they don’t even take the time to google info when they live in an information age where knowledge is at their fingertips, he said simply that most of his generation is really lazy. Right now at 28 he is living in Atlanta, bought a 3 bedroom home and rents out two of the 3 bedrooms and the basement to film people to pay his mortgage. (He lives in the master suite). He is always fixing up his home, works all the time and thinks like a person twice his age. I agree that he is the exception, but his brother also bought his own home at 25 when he got a job for the Miami Dolphins in media relations. Most young people don’t understand because they have not experienced difficulty. To quote Gloria, “They’re 20 or so and chances are [by that age] you haven’t been discriminated against that much in the labour force. Maybe you don’t yet have children and you haven’t experienced how unequal and difficult that is. It’s why, in a general way, women get more radical with age. And men get more conservative. People look at younger women and think if they’re not radical there’s something wrong with them. No – they just haven’t experienced the problems yet.”

        And you are exactly correct about women my age. We protested and fought for freedom and equality in the 60’s. We thought we had achieved it and compared to our mothers we had. Then we had families, jobs and husbands to take care of and everything came first before we even thought about ourselves. NOW, it is our time to think and to act. There is a wisdom AND also a sense of freedom as women age. It is very empowering. Or perhaps it is just that we know society doesn’t desire us anymore. We have been cast aside…. Women become invisible in society and in the work place after 50. We don’t have to be beautiful anymore. Men in charge seem to only want young and attractive, experience and wisdom doesn’t seem to matter. (Look at our President’s view of women.) Ironically, men think that older women aren’t interesting and yet we are now more interesting than we have ever been. We are well read, we do our research and we plan!!! Like I said, The women’s march was proof. We can join up, we can protest, and we don’t fight because we don’t have testosterone urging us on. I wish I had the finances. i would start a women’s coop or condo association where women over 50 could live and care for one another. Men die earlier and women are more apt to care for one another. But that is another topic for another day…. Sorry I am so long winded. I am waiting at the eye doctor’s to go in and so in answering you comment I got carried away. Thanks for posting and responding. You are so articulate and intelligent. It is a pleasure to read your comments!!


  2. Thank you for writing this. It totally needed to be said. I too have begun to realize that “We The People” no longer means we the citizens of America any more. This new GOP seems to have destroyed the America I grew up believing in. It wasn’t ever perfect, but the Constitution and Dec. of Independence at least gave us a guide and it was followed and gave our leaders a map to follow. I don’t understand why this administration is allowed to get away with ignoring it. Now it seems that only the Democrats and some Independents, believe in helping other Americans. The standard way of thinking for Republicans these days is that if it doesn’t affect them, then who cares in the old lady down the street dies because she can’t get health coverage, or if the minority single working mother is busting her behind working three jobs on minimum wage? If it doesn’t affect the wealthy, they simply turn a blind eye and Congress says that single working mom going to school and holding down a job doesn’t need government assistance for child care or food stamps while learning a trade or earning a degree. I had this discussion with a friend of mine, who actually happens to be wealthy but votes with her heart not with her pocket book. We discussed how many people cannot relate to those who are different, who have less, and they really are lacking in compassion as long as it doesn’t affect them or their family members.
    I can promise you that healthcare reform would be totally different if Congress didn’t have paid healthcare for life and if they were forced to live like the rest of the population. The young cannot relate to the old, the wealthy cannot relate to the poor, the religious cannot understand or have compassion for those who are not their faith or those who do not believe in G-d. Where is our compassion for ALL citizens and the American values my father fought for in WWII? United we stand divided we fall. I cringe watching the news and truly don’t understand how divided this country has become. I blame rich corporations who promote Fox News and spew hatred. I blame right wing conservatives who preach G-d yet forget to love thy neighbor. I have grown up with prejudice. But I have never seen this kind of hatred from the top down. It is frightening. We are becoming Germany 1937.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Lesley!

      I couldn’t agree more with your overall sentiment. The values listed in our founding documents were aspirational and adapted to the times we lived in. In other words, they were right for the time. Times change, our values change. I can’t believe that as the wealthiest country in the history of human kind anyone accepts the notion that we can’t afford something. It does not make sense. We can afford anything we want to afford what we lack is the political will to pay for things.

      That said, our values are rooted in our Puritan forefathers which were highly discriminatory. They also believed that God showed His love through your worldly possessions and wealth. That idea is not far from what we see the Repubes trying to enact today: if you’re poor, then it is because you are morally lacking some how and undeserving of help. Most of our history is characterized by bigoted discrimination. It has only been our life times — and I am deeply thankful for the great good fortune — that we have been making strides towards equality and acceptance.

      The tone is set at the top and flows downward. In psychology, the concept is known as mental contaminant. People’s beliefs are normalized. What we once covered up hoping no one would find out, we now believe that others share that belief and will support us in expressing it.

      We are quite literally in a fight. The fight of our life time.


      Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t think America’s values have changed that much. We have always been a bigoted, intolerant, sexist, homophobic, hypocritical bunch of people. The difference now is that the current political regime has made it “cool” and acceptable to wear our hatred on our sleeve whereas before we hid it behind closed doors. America is in crisis mode. Those of us who hold the values you detailed close to our hearts need to become ‘seen and heard’.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Larry!

      I agree that we have always been bigoted. We can thank our Puritan forefathers for that. They fled England for the freedom to discriminate against religious beliefs they didn’t agree with just ask Roger Williams, founder of Rhodes Island because he was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and Anne Hutchinson, likewise exiled. A veritable fountain of tolerance that lot. In fact we were enjoying the halcyon days of tolerance and acceptance from 1965 to about 1985 or so. Since Reagan, we’ve been watching the social safety nets and equal rights being rolled back. Now, we’re at a crisis, but it is one that has been brewing for quite some time.

      Those of us who grew up with a right to abortion, for example, probably don’t realize that we are in for the fight of our lives.

      Thanks for following us, and I hope to hear from you again.


      Liked by 1 person

Howdy Y'all! Come on in, pardner! Join this here conversation! I would love to hear from you!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.