American Issues

WHAT ARE AMERICAN DEMOCRATIC VALUES and AMERICAN CULTURAL VALUES?

Values are important because they guide our beliefs, attitudes and behavior; consequently, they are a key foundation of democracy.  If we wisely select our values and follow them, America and American democracy will “work.

AMERICAN DEMOCRATIC VALUES

Core democratic values are the fundamental beliefs and Constitutional principles of American society, which unite all Americans. These values are expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution and other significant documents, speeches and writings of the nation.

  • Life: Each citizen has the right to the protection of his or her life.
  • Liberty: Liberty includes the freedom to believe what you want, freedom to choose your own friends, and to have your own ideas and opinions, to express your ideas in public, the right for people to meet in groups, the right to have any lawful job or business.
  • Pursuit of Happiness: Each citizen can find happiness in his or her own way, so long as he or she does not step on the rights of others.
  • Justice: All people should be treated fairly in getting advantages and disadvantages of our country. No group or person should be favored.
  • Common Good: Citizens should work together for the good of all. The government should make laws that are good for everyone.
  • Equality: Everyone should get the same treatment regardless of where their parents or grandparents were born, their race, their religion or how much money they have. Citizens all have political, social and economic equality.
  • Truth: The government and citizens should not lie.
  • Diversity: Differences in language, dress, food, where parents or grandparents were born, race and religion are not only allowed but accepted as important.
  • Popular Sovereignty: The power of the government comes from the people.
  • Patriotism: This means having a devotion to our country and the core democratic values in what we say and what we do.

Source: Civitas: A Framework for Civic Education, a collaborative project of the Center for Civic Education and the Council for the Advancement of Citizenship, National Council for the Social Studies Bulletin No. 86, 1991.

The Pew Research Center provides a survey view of the public’s view of American democratic values.

AMERICAN CULTURAL VALUES

(by Elizabeth McNamee)

In contract to American democratic values, American cultural values describe common ideologies or standards of behavior that have persisted over periods of American culture. American democratic values focus on principles explicitly or indirectly expressed or written in fundamental US Policy (e.g. the United States Constitution) while American cultural values highlight the popular ideals and ideologies developed and shared by generations of the American people. While democratic values and cultural values may both converge or diverge in ideology, American cultural values have the ability to influence the manifestation of American democracy in practice (e.g. influence over election results, political priorities, Supreme Court case selection). The values listed below have been adapted from an essay written by Robert Kohls aimed to help visitors prepare to acclimate and understand American society.

  1. Personal control over the environment
  2. Change/mobility
  3. Time and its importance
  4. Equality/egalitarianism
  5. Self-help
  6. Competition and free enterprise
  7. Action and work orientation
  8. Informality
  9. Directness/openness/honesty
  10. Practicality/efficiency

AMERICA IS FALLING SHORT OF ITS VALUES

A Pew survey documented public opinion as to how well America is adhering to its democratic values as of 2019.

RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN AMERICAN CULTURAL VALUES AND AMERICAN DEMOCRATIC VALUES

American cultural values refer to common ideologies shared by the American people while American democratic values refer to the principles explicitly or implicitly found in foundational US policy (e.g., the United States Constitution).

At the time of its conception (1787), the US constitution was largely motivated and structured by the persistent American cultural values of the time; and, to an extent, American cultural values and American democratic values could then be seen as congruent. Since then, American cultural values have fluctuated over time while American democratic values have also somewhat shifted or expanded as can be seen in Constitutional amendments and Supreme Court interpretations.

While both sets of values have both simultaneously changed and retained some level of constancy, what happens when values from each of these sets begin to contradict one another? One could cite both a divergence of American cultural values from its democratic values and extreme political polarization that affects respect and defense for American democratic values. Currently, the factions of this division – red states, Republicans, and Trump on one side and blue states and Democrats on another – respectfully speaking, are approximately equally split.

Certain American cultural values have gained greater emphasis and new values have emerged which together are undermining American democratic values and hence threaten American democracy. For example, political strategies utilizing a “win at any cost and by any means” strategy to defend the values of one political party is serving to deteriorate the American cultural value of “directness/openness/honesty” that threatens the American democratic value of transparent, trustworthy government. This deterioration can perhaps be reflected in the reported drastic increase in fallacies from the White House administration and the president himself (e.g., The Washington Post fact checker reports that by July 22, 2019, Trump has told 6420 lies since becoming president).

Other American democratic values that are similarly being deteriorated or threatened are listed below:

  • The Common Good is being replaced by “the good of our faction”
  • Justice is being compromised by voter suppression efforts
  • Equality is under attack for minorities
  • Diversity has been directly attacked as a value
  • The Rule of Law is no longer compulsory for all citizens, specifically those in positions of power
  • Checks and Balances have been directly attacked

Serious questions have been raised about the role of political parties in supporting American democratic values. Clearly the Republican Party in recent years has not played a leadership role in defending and supporting American democratic values. What is motivating Republicans to replace American democratic values with anti-American values in their behavior and leadership?” Answer: Tribal loyalty ahead of constitutional responsibility. Motivation: unscrupulous self-interest. This includes incumbency, prestige, wealth and power, See Paul Krugman, “The Great Republican Abdication”.

The Democratic Party is not blameless. As the hacking of the Democratic National Committee in the 2016 election showed, the DNC not only displayed bias in its support of candidates (favoring Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders, leading to conflict within the party), it also failed to support what should have been a winnable campaign.

America’s first president, George Washington, was very concerned about potential harm that could be caused by political parties., “He was greatly concerned that they had in past history, and would again, continue to grow seeking more power than other groups to the detriment of the whole. Washington was aware that other governments viewed political parties as destructive because of the temptation to manifest and retain power, but also because they would often seek to extract revenge on political opponents. Washington also saw the dangers in sectionalism (North vs. South) warning that political factions gaining enough power could seek to obstruct the execution of the laws that were created by Congress. He pointed out that this would prevent the three branches from properly performing their duties as outlined in the Constitution,” Dennis Jamison Oct 27, 2017, CDN, Communities Digital News.

SUMMARY

The American tradition of relying on elected representatives to faithfully and skillfully pursue the interests of their constituents is, in general, dead. With exceptions, many elected representatives (especially Republican) focus on pursuing their own interests and ideology. To remain in power they hitch their future to tribal loyalties in order to retain incumbency, and disregard American democratic values.

Stacking the judiciary and ignoring the separation of powers are undemocratic gambits. Manipulative techniques, such a lying and baiting the electorate with emotional issues (e.g. race, fear), and, as expedient, encouragement of foreign power intervention, gerrymandering, and voter suppression are their strategies. Now more than ever, the actions of many elected leaders are heavily influenced by financially rich citizens and organizations.

A worrisome number of elected officials currently appear unequipped or uninterested in leading America back to a sound functioning democracy. The pursuit of American democratic values and the general welfare of American citizens are no longer their concern.

It is up to us citizens.

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