America’s Common Ground: Gay marriage & marijuana?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series American Common Ground
STAY TUNED! One week from today, "United America" is released nationally. You'll hear a lot more next week about how much the OurValues project contributed to this new book.

STAY TUNED! One week from today, “United America” will be released nationally. You’ll hear a lot more next week about the many ways that the OurValues project contributed to this new book.

One week before the publication of my new book, United America, we take a look at some of the historic milestones that seem to be reshaping America’s common ground, today.

The milestones we will discuss this week were charted by the Pew research team. They are different from the core values I will identify  in my book, but these emerging points of consensus identified by the Pew team certainly signal historic trends that could turn into large majorities, someday.


Today, consider that—for the first time ever—more than half of Americans favor allowing same-sex “marriage” and a majority of Americans favor legalizing marijuana.

Today’s question: Which surprises you more?

Equal opportunity is one of America’s 10 core values, but it is one that has taken a long time to materialize—and it has a long way to go. Today, Pew researchers have found, a majority of Americans support legalizing same-sex “marriage.” Overall, 7 in 10 Americans (72%) say that the legal recognition of same-sex marriage is “inevitable.” Even among current opponents of same-sex marriage, 6 of 10 still say it’s inevitable.

Same-sex marriage remains a divisive issue. Over 4 of 10 Americans (42%) oppose it, often on religious grounds. But Pew’s Fact Tank shows a clear upward trend over the years. The historic milestone of majority support for same-sex marriage may prove to be the tipping point after which support grows and grows.

AND MARIJUANA: The same is true for support for the legalization of marijuana. Last year was the first time in 40 years that a majority of Americans (52%) said they support making legal the use marijuana. Some may think of marijuana as a recreational drug, but more and more Americans use it for pain relief. I have a relative in severe arthritis pain who finds some relief with it.

Like same-sex marriage, the legalization of marijuana is a divisive issue. Almost half (45%) say it should not be legalized. However you feel about making marijuana legal, the historic milestone of majority support may be the tipping point in public opinion.

ON RACIAL EQUALITY: Over the sweep of many decades, the application of equality has broadened and deepened. But we still have a long way to go. For example, only 45% of Americans say we have made a lot of progress in the last 50 years on racial equality, according to Pew. That’s something to reflect upon today, the day we honor Martin Luther King, Jr.

How do you feel about the historic milestones of majority support for gay marriage and marijuana?

Are these milestones evidence of increasing equality?

Or, a sign of social decline and deterioration?

Which one surprises you more?

Common Ground: Should MYOB be America’s global policy?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series American Common Ground
Click on this chart from the Pew report to visit the Pew website and read the entire report.

Click on this chart from the Pew report to visit the Pew website and read the entire report.

Americans worry that we have lost our common ground—interests or opinions that cut across diverse cultural, religious, and political lines. Yet Americans do have common ground when it comes to shared values, as I document in my about-to-be released book, United America.

This week, we’re examining areas that show signs of becoming common ground in the future, based on some historic milestones in public opinion. America’s foreign policy is one such area.

Today’s question: Should MYOB—Mind Your Own Business—be our guiding principle?

For the first time ever, a majority of Americans (52%) now agree that “the U.S. should mind its own business internationally and get along the best they can on their own,” according to a Pew Research Center poll late last year. Way back in 1964, when Pew first started asking this question, only 20% agreed with it.

A whopping 70% of Americans now say that the U.S. is losing respect around the globe. That’s nearly as high as the peak in May 2008, when 71% of Americans felt that the nation was losing respect internationally.

Also for the first time, a majority of Americans (53%) agree that the U.S. plays a less powerful and important role than the country did a decade ago. Only 17% of Americans now say that the U.S. plays a more important and powerful role as a world leader than it did 10 years ago.

Does all this translate into an isolationist policy?

Not exactly, say Pew analysts. The same survey also finds strong support for America’s involvement in the global economy. Two-thirds (66%) of Americans say that more involvement in the global economy is a “good thing because it exposes the U.S. to new markets and opportunities for growth.” Only 25% say that more involvement in the global economy is “bad because it exposes the U.S. to risk and uncertainty.” There are virtually no partisan differences in these opinions about involvement in the world’s economy.

Are you surprised to learn that foreign policy might become an area of common ground?

Should MYOB be America’s foreign policy?

Common Ground: A new nation of immigrants?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series American Common Ground
Scene from PBS Independent Lens docmentary Las Marthas

OUR FOUNDING FATHERS? Yes, our Hispanic founding fathers! In February, PBS will broadcast an eye-opening documentary, “Las Marthas,” about a long tradition in Laredo, Texas, of marking Washington’s birthday by celebrating Hispanic ancestors in the region. (Click this photo to learn more about regional, public previews PBS is scheduling for the film.)

It’s a cliché to say that America is a land of immigrants, but it’s still true—and it’s truer today than it has been for a long, long time. We’ve experienced an historic immigration milestone in our history. Is this milestone making us a new nation of immigrants?

The historic milestone is this: Over 40 million immigrants (including those unauthorized) now call America home, according to Pew’s analysis of Census data. This figure is a new record. Percentage wise, this means that 13% of the American population is now foreign born.

This is the highest number of immigrants in absolute terms. But is it also the highest percentage? It’s not, according to U.S. Census data and analysis. The highest percentages of immigrants occurred over a century ago, at three time points: 1870 (14.4%), 1890 (14.8%), and 1910 (14.7%). For the record, these were the periods when my immigrant ancestors—on both sides of my family—came to America.

One big difference is the source of immigration—the countries of origin. In these earlier years, Europe was the biggest source. Now, Mexico is the biggest source, accounting for almost three of ten (29%) of immigrants, according to Pew. Mexico is closely followed by Asia (25%).

The reception of immigrants through American history has been tumultuous, occasionally bloody. But I believe it is also a reinforcement of one of America’s 10 core values: respect for others. Respect for others includes respect for people of different faiths and of different races and ethnicities, as I discuss in my new book, United America. Generally, our nation has been more welcoming of immigrants than other nations.

But before you leave today’s column thinking of Mexican-Americans as newcomers: Watch your local PBS TV schedules in mid-February, when the public-TV network airs Las Marthas. Filmmaker Cristina Ibarra takes viewers inside a tradition little known outside of Laredo, Texas. For many generations, Mexican-American families have marked Washington’s birthday by introducing their young debutantes in elaborate American Revolutionary-era gowns. The point of the festival is to remind Americans that many “Mexican” families have lived in what is now the U.S. for hundreds of years. (Are you a teacher or small-group leader? Here’s a wonderful, free, 14-page discussion guide to Las Marthas.)

Are you surprised at the record number of immigrants?

Do you welcome our new emerging ethnic mix?

Common Ground: Is Big Brother watching YOU?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series American Common Ground

Big Brother Is Watching You 1984Mass surveillance. Collection of billions of telephone data items. Warrantless wiretaps. Traffic cameras.

What would George Orwell say?

In his ominous novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, published in 1949, George Orwell depicted a totalitarian state with total surveillance of its citizens. “Big Brother is watching you” was its motto. We don’t live in a state of total surveillance, but the revelations last year by Edward Snowden that the National Security Agency (NSA) had collected billions of telephone records was reason for pause.

Maybe that’s why record numbers of Americans say that the government is a bigger threat than big business or big labor, according to Gallup. The Pew Research Center finds—for the first time—that a majority of Americans felt that the government threatens their personal rights. It’s another historic milestone. And, this was before Snowden made his revelations!

Americans have always preferred a limited government. This preference can be traced back to the nation’s founding. Many political scientists consider it to be a defining characteristic of American society. And, it’s related to the core value of self-reliance—the notion that one can and should rely on oneself.

Do you feel the government is becoming Big Brother?

Are you worried by government surveillance?

Or, do you believe it’s vital for national security?

Common Ground: Wired for democracy?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series American Common Ground
STAY TUNED! One week from today, "United America" is released nationally. You'll hear a lot more next week about how much the OurValues project contributed to this new book.

STAY TUNED! On MONDAY January 27, we are launching “United America.”

Can you recall why we still say “dial” a phone number? If you can, then you’re probably a member of the analog generation, those who grew up with rotary dial phones and roll-down car windows. If you don’t know where “dial” comes from, then you’re a member of the digital generation, accustomed to tapping numbers on a smartphone.

I’m a member of the analog generation, but I happily use all the new digital technologies. My smartphone is a constant companion, though sometimes I leave it home just to relive the freedom of my analog youth. Just how prevalent are smartphones? And, are they good or bad for democracy?

A majority of Americans (56%) now own smartphones, according to the Pew Research Center’s compilation of historic milestones. Another 35% own cell phones that aren’t smartphones. Only 9% don’t have cell phones or smartphones. Pew notes that the increase in smartphone ownership cuts across the economic spectrum, though there are still demographic differences.

The widespread adoption of smartphones should be good for democracy. Political scientists argue that the spread of information supports democracy, and smartphones play a key part in that process. Pew also finds that a majority of Americans use the Internet to get their news. But we also know that some people seek sources of information that only reinforce their points of view.

With the official launch of my new book United America on January 27, we used this week to explore several historic milestones in America’s emerging common ground: majorities of Americans now favor legalizing same-sex marriage and legalizing marijuana, a majority say that MYOB—Mind Your Own Business—should be America’s foreign policy, and a demographic milestone—that the immigrant population has reached a record number.

What does all of this mean? This is a portrait of Americans wanting to flex their own freedoms, and let others flex their freedoms, with limited government interference. It’s also a time when the nation is increasingly diverse, so that eventually no one will command a decisive majority. So, it’s a crucial time to discover what Core Values Americans share and how we can still hold together as a nation.

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the effects of these trends?

Do you see new common ground?

Or, new sources of division and discord?