Thursday, November 05, 2015

Does America Really Share 'Core Values' ?

Before I delve into the edition's topic, I have to say that I'm still a little bit in shock at the outcome of the recent election results. Rarely in my 35 plus years as a political and community activist have I seen such a seismic shift. Most political pundits and pollsters were predicting almost the complete opposite. Perhaps it was a referendum on the Obama Regime's policies. Certainly the scope of the election would indicate so. But then, given that the Governor-elect, Matt Bevin, has long been considered an "outsider"; a "Tea Partier", and an "anti-establishment" candidate, one could equally argue that the election was a refutation of the McConnell controlled Republican Party.

Of course, the top of the Democrat Party's ticket wasn't an especially strong candidate and, as a result, relied heavily on negative campaigning. Nevertheless, other candidates such as Adam Edelen, long thought to be a rising star, is now a bit dimmed. What we ended up with was a near sweep of the Constitutional offices by the Republican Party while the two Democratic wins were razor thin. So, congratulations to all the winners, and a special thanks to everyone who was willing to put themselves out there as a candidate. It's not easy. I know. I've done it a few times.

Moving on to this edition of A/O, did you happen to notice that one of the themes repeated over and over by the Democrat nominee was that Republican Matt Bevin didn't share "our values"? How often have we heard the phrase "our values" being thrown about in political campaigns or debates? It seems to be a catchall phrase used by both political parties for years if not decades, but no one ever seems to try and define just what that means. I wonder why that it is? Could it because no one knows what those "values" are? Maybe they're afraid to mention them because one or two of them might "offend" someone---and that may cost votes or worse! Then again, maybe it's just supposed to be left to our collective imaginations that we have some unspoken national or even regional moral bond.

But if you think about it, that's not quite true. As Americans, we do seem to share some common beliefs. If you take a look at our Founding documents, such as the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, as well as some other key documents and speeches (TR's "Man in the Arena" speech comes to mind), we can glimpse what some of these common core values are, such as a liberty, equality and self-government. As a nation, we have a almost unshakeable belief in a higher power or Creator (74% believe in God or a higher power), who has bequeath to us certain rights (often referred to as "natural or unalienable rights" as defined by individuals such as John Locke). These natural rights aren't due to the good graces of some benevolent government or royal decree. They are ours as a basic irrevocable entitlement based on our common Humanity.

Americans also share a common belief in self-reliance, privacy, equal opportunities to succeed (or fail) based on our own efforts (this is the "pursuit of happiness" portion you've probably read or heard about it). It means that you have the right to try to achieve a measure of self-happiness as you define it, but you have no guarantee that you will be successful. No one owes it to you. This is also part of our collective heritage as Americans of a capitalist or mercantile system. It's not a "anything goes" social or economic system. It implies a level playing field for all participants, which, of course, means equality and equal treatment for all. It also means honesty in our dealings with others, which brings me to an interesting contradiction in our collective mentality. Americans despise cheaters, whether it be in business dealings or sports, and yet there's a part of us which subtly admires the cleverness of the act. Perhaps that's why we can simultaneously like and hate someone like an Al Capone or Barry Bonds or Richard Nixon.

Another thing we as Americans seem to embrace is charity. Americans are among the most giving of any nation (ranked 13th in the world). We spend billions annually---$358 billion in 2014---helping people around the world and here at home (in 2013, the US Government gave $40.11 billion in aid, of which $8.03 billion was earmarked as military aid). We are quite individualistic, especially compared to other nations who think more in terms of the collective good, be it village, ethnic group or nation. It's part of our "up by our own bootstraps" mentality, and yet we tend to think of ourselves are part of various subgroups like Westerners, Northerners, Southerners, or New Yorkers or Californians and so forth.
Some self-identify by race (though frown upon by most), or sexual preference, religion, or even ethic group. Yet, when we travel abroad, we rarely make any other claim than that of being Americans. We are also a very informal. Perhaps that because we see each other as a unique human being; a "one-of-a-kind". It may also be because we, as a nation, rejected any titled sense of superiority of Europe. We tend to measure ourselves by our abilities and our drive to succeed through hard work. We also tend to distrust authority, especially governmental authority. Again, perhaps a holdover from our collective history.

There you have it. It appears we do indeed have a certain set of core values which unites as Americans; a belief in individualism and self-government, personal privacy, a level playing field and equal opportunity to succeed or fail based on our own efforts along with "healthy" competition, specific "inalienable" rights such as freedom of speech, religion, movement and thought innate to us as human beings, not to mention a strong work ethic and "can do" attitude, value of our leisure and informality. Some may add to that our sense of the value of our time and thus punctuality, the acceptance and normality of change, ability to own property, a representative government responsible to the people, and a right to participate in the political process as well as civilian control of the military and law enforcement.

So, the next time you see or hear a political advertisement or speech which either stresses their commitment to our shared "American" or "Family" values or their opponents lack thereof, ask yourself whether what's being promoted adds to or takes away from these values. Is what they're promoting increase the scope and power of government or personal responsibility? Does it contribute to creating a level economic playing field for all or does a certain group unjustly benefits? Does what they're claiming takes away from the rights of individual such as increasing surveillance or limiting our freedom of personal privacy; perhaps it creates a "personhood" out of artificial legal entities and bestows on them more rights than on flesh and blood individuals? Is money merely a form of freedom of speech or an economic tool? Should our use of it be restricted or just restricted for some?

As Americans, there is more which unites us than divides us, although to some we must remain divided as much as possible so that we remain distracted from what's really going on behind the scenes and more often than not, in our name...for our own good of course.

The University of Missouri-St. Louis. International Student and Scholar Services:
Key American Values
(July 17, 2013)

Time Magazine: What Are American Values These Days?
(July 4, 2012)

Everyday Sociology Blog: American Values: Are We Really Divided?
(March 21, 2011)

Gallup Poll: Majority in U.S. Still Say Moral Values Getting Worse
(June 2, 2015)

Theodore Roosevelt: Citizenship in the Republic/Man in the Arena
(April 23, 1910)

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