Is there any common ground for constructive discussion about our sad state of morality? That’s the big question we are raising this week. Only 20% of Americans think the state of moral values in our country is good or excellent, as we began discussing Monday. A new Gallup poll shows that most Americans say the state of moral values is deplorable—and it’s going downhill. Incivility is the number one reason Americans give for their dim assessment. The usual culprits of poverty, racism, crime, drugs and alcohol, and other problems are rarely cited as reasons for the perceived sad state of affairs. Yesterday, we considered the declining support of the environment in favor of economic development as another possible culprit (or perhaps symptom) of the underlying problem.
Is there a way out?
“Our current unease” comes from “a sense that our political system is so obstructed and so polarized that even good ideas commanding broad support have little chance of prevailing,” writes E. J. Dionne is his new book, Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent. “We don’t have constructive debate,” he argues, “because we cannot agree on the facts or on any common ground defined by shared moral commitments.”
For the better part of the last century, there was what Dionne calls “the Long Consensus” based on a balance of “our love of individualism and our reverence for community.” This consensus has fallen apart. “We have forgotten that the tension at the heart of our national experiment is a healthy one, we have pretended that we can resolve our problems by becoming all one thing or all another.”
Is there any common ground?
What has also been forgotten is that Americans, indeed, still have a broad consensus around shared values, as I have documented in several national surveys. The prevailing polarization narrative denies its existence—but exist it does. Perhaps the recognition that Americans have never lost their core values could be a starting point for common ground and constructive debate.
Is the tension between individualism and community a healthy one?
Do you think we can find common ground?
Is another Long Consensus even possible?
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Originally published at www.OurValues.org, an experiment in civil dialogue about American values.