Elections: Will the American experiment fail?

Voting booths in New Hampshire

PLENTY OF VOTING BOOTHS … NO WAITING. Mark Buck took this photo in New Hampshire and provided it for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

Our nation’s founders recognized that America was an experiment, and a fragile one at that. Throughout our history, astute observers and historians have noted the American continues to be an experiment. At this point in time, what’s your prediction? Is the experiment succeeding or failing?

Free elections are a mainstay of our democracy, and so this week we’ve discussed various features and implications of the November general election. We talked about which political party wants to make radical change in America and which one cares more about Americans (it’s the same party, by the way). We noted that Tea Party members are especially fearful of the threats of terrorism and Ebola. And we discussed the historically low voter turnout in this month’s election.

Today, we reflect on what this may mean for the American experiment.

There are many ways to reflect on this issue, and in this short post, I want to outline just two: low voter turnout and internal threats.

America had the first modern design for democracy, but we haven’t lived up to the potential. Once, Election Day was a celebration. Going to the polls was a heady, exciting, and solemn act.

But, as Howard Steven Friedman writes in The Measure of a Nation, we typically have lower voter turnout than other large, rich nations. Friedman’s findings show that Americans tend to be far behind countries such as Belgium, Australia, Spain, Netherlands and Japan. And in this recent election, we hit a new low in the exercise of our voting privileges.

The value of security refers to protection from internal and external threats. Tea Partiers, for example, fear the external threats of terrorism and Ebola, and the internal threat of “Big Government.” But there is another internal threat—one that Douglas Patterson noted in a comment this week: radical individualism. This is the core American value of self-reliance run amuck. It denies responsibility for anyone other than oneself.

What’s your verdict on the American experiment?
Are you concerned by the low voter turnout?
Have we become too self-reliant and inward looking?

Your viewpoint is important!

You can leave a comment below. Or, you can talk with friends by using the blue-“f” Facebook or envelope-shaped email icons and asking friends to read this series with you. You’re also free to print out these columns and use them to spark discussion in your class or small group.

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Categories: Critical Patriotism

Elections: Should children go to the polls?

American mother and daughter

An American mother and daughter talking. (Photo by “Marty” posted for public use via Wikimedia Commons.)

The turnout in November’s election was appalling, the lowest in over 70 years. Just over a third of eligible voters (34%) voted. Would the turnout have been better if more voters had gone to the polls when they were children?

No state had more than 60% of its eligible voters show up, notes the New York Times in its compilation of election results. Maine had the highest turnout (59%); Indiana had the lowest (28%). In 43 states, voter turnout was less than 50%.

Those who remember going to polls with their parents were more likely to vote, according to the post-election survey by the Public Religion Research Institute. Three of four (74%) Americans who recalled going to the polls with their parents said they voted on November 4th. About six of ten of Americans who said they didn’t go to the polls with their parents reported that they voted.

So, turnout might have been better if more Americans had gone to the ballot box with their parents. Of course, this is only one factor. But it’s a worthwhile one to remember especially when we think about the effects we have on our children.

Turnout in my home state of Michigan (almost 43%) was above the national average. I voted, but didn’t bring my son to the polls as I have done before. But I did make a point of bringing home my “I VOTED” sticker and affixed it to his music stand. I made sure he noticed that I had voted.

Should children go to the polls?
Do you recall going when you were a kid?
Do you (or did you) bring your children to the polls?

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Categories: Critical Patriotism

Elections: Why is the Tea Party so scared?

Tea Party rally from Flickr and Wikimedia Commons

THEY MAY BE SCARED, BUT THEY’RE ALSO DETERMINED. This photo from a Tea Party rally is part of a Flickr feed provided for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

Economics was a chief topic of concern in the November elections, but other issues were factors. Many Americans said that security was a concern as they cast their votes.

However, one group of voters was keenly concerned with security, polls are showing. That group was comprised of Americans who consider themselves Tea Partiers.

How important is security? Security is one of the 10 core American values, as I documented in four national surveys and write about in United America. The value of security means keeping the nation safe and secure from internal and external threats. The value of security is a constant, but threats change from time to time. For example, Ebola is a new threat. Terrorism is a continuing threat, though it waxes and wanes. And it appears to be waxing for Tea Partiers.

How scared are Tea Partiers? On Fear of Terrorism—Only 11% of Americans are very concerned that they or family member will be a victim of terrorism, according to the post-election poll by the Public Religion Research Institute. But 24% of Tea Partiers are very concerned. Just a third of all Americans (33%) are very or somewhat concerned, but more than six of ten (61%) Tea Partiers are very or somewhat concerned.

On Fear of Ebola—Only 7% of Americans are very worried that they or a family member will contract Ebola, but twice as many Tea Partiers (14%) are very worried. Just over two of ten Americans (22%) are very or somewhat worried, but a third of Tea Partiers (32%) are very or somewhat worried that they or a family member will get Ebola.

Why are Tea Party members so much more worried than Americans in general?
Did worries about terrorism or Ebola factor into your vote this month?
How important is the value of security for you?

Your viewpoint is important!

You can leave a comment below. Or, you can talk with friends by using the blue-“f” Facebook or envelope-shaped email icons and asking friends to read this series with you. You’re also free to print out these columns and use them to spark discussion in your class or small group.

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Categories: Critical Patriotism

Elections: Which political party cares about YOU?

Democratic and Republican claims

BOTH PARTIES CLAIM THEY CARE. These snapshots come from the national Democratic and GOP websites. At left, Democrats associate themselves with Presidents Johnson and Truman as well as the launch of Medicare and Medicaid. At right, Republicans associate with President Lincoln and a commitment to help Americans find jobs.

The elections this month swept Republicans into Congress, granting them control of both houses of the legislature.

Did the elections sweep the party that cares about you into office?

Americans put more Republicans into office, but more Americans feel that the Democratic Party rather than the Republican Party cares about them, according to the post-election survey by the Public Religion Research Institute. Almost half (47%) of Americans say the Democratic Party cares about them, compared to just over a third (37%) of Americans who say that the Grand Old Party cares about them. About 9% say they don’t know.

Why do more Americans say that Democrats care about them, compared to Republicans—but more Republicans were elected?

Not surprisingly, most Republicans are either excited (26%) or satisfied (54%) with the outcomes of the election. Tea Partiers are even more delighted. Seven of ten Democrats, however, are disappointed or worried about the outcomes.

Are you happy or unhappy about the outcomes of the midterm election?

Which party cares more about you?

Your viewpoint is important!

You can leave a comment below. Or, you can talk with friends by using the blue-“f” Facebook or envelope-shaped email icons and asking friends to read this series with you. You’re also free to print out these columns and use them to spark discussion in your class or small group.

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Categories: Critical Patriotism

Elections: Who wants to radically change America?

Public Religion Research Institute report on 2014 midterm elections

CLICK this image from the Public Religion Research Institute to read an overview of the PRRI study. On that webpage, you also can choose to download the entire 33-page PRRI research report.

Would you like to see radical change in America? Sweeping immigration reform? The end of Obamacare? Something even more dramatic?

This week at OurValues, we will discuss what the latest election results mean.

Stalemate and gridlock are likely, now that the Republicans control both the Senate and the House and a Democrat sits in the White House. Then again, Obama may take unilateral action and radically alter our immigration policies through executive action. And, in 2016, if the Republicans retain control of both houses and the presidency, we might see radical change of a different sort.

Let’s start our discussion with this question—Who do you think wants to make radical change in America: Democrats or Republicans?

Democrats is the answer, according to a post-election survey by the Public Religion Research Institute. A majority of Americans (53%) say that Democrats want to radically transform society, compared to only 33% who say that it’s the Republicans who want to do that. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of Tea Party member, Republicans, and conservatives say that Democrats, more than Republicans, want to remake American society.

However, more Americans say that the Republican party is more extreme in its positions, compared to those who say that the Democratic party is extreme in its positions.

Do you think that Democrats, more than Republicans, want to radically change America?

Would prefer radical change by Democrats or Republicans—or no radical change at all?

Your viewpoint is important!

You can leave a comment below. Or, you can talk with friends by using the blue-“f” Facebook or envelope-shaped email icons and asking friends to read this series with you. You’re also free to print out these columns and use them to spark discussion in your class or small group.

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Categories: Critical PatriotismFreedom

Veterans: Do we need to do more to support them?

Bonus Army presents petitions in Washington DC

A HISTORY OF PROTEST—Demonstrations by groups of veterans are more common than Americans may remember. The most extensive protest was the Bonus Army encampment in Washington D.C. through the spring and summer of 1932 in which 43,000 marchers came to demand a cash payment that was promised to veterans, but was delayed for many years. In the depths of the Great Depression, these World War I veterans were desperate and built a huge encampment in Washington hoping to pressure Congress to turn over the promised cash. President Hoover finally ordered the army to tear down the protesters’ makeshift huts. THIS PHOTO from the Library of Congress collection shows several Bonus March leaders carrying enormous heaps of petitions to lawmakers demanding payments to veterans.

Has the government given veterans the help they need?

There are two sides to this question: what the general public thinks and what veterans themselves think. Is there a disconnect between these two sides?

So far this week, we’ve learned that veterans are actually more resilient than the rest of us, how commercialized Veterans Day has become, the disconnect between civilians and veterans, and how thanking veterans may not be the best way to honor them. Today, we look at another way in which civilians and veterans are disconnected, based on a compilation of survey results reported here.

Back in 1946, Gallup polled veterans to see what they thought about the help they had received from the government. Three of four World War I vets who saw combat felt the government had given them all the help they thought the government should give them. This high percentage is especially noteworthy given that the “help” back then could be $60 and a train ticket home.

About 69% of World War II vets who saw combat felt that the government had given them all the help it should give—and this was at a time when GI benefits had greatly expanded. Almost the same percentage (61%) of veterans in a 2011 Pew survey said the same.

Veterans’ perspectives have not changed much, but the public’s perception has. In 1947, just over half of all Americans (53%) said that veterans’ benefits were adequate. In 2012, however, only 23% said that these benefits were adequate. The majority (58%) felt they were less than adequate.

Today, the majority of Americans say that the government should increase spending on behalf of veterans. For example, nine of ten Americans say that we should increase funding for diagnosis and treatment of brain injuries and mental health problems.

Why do we see this difference in opinion between veterans and civilians?

If you are a vet, do you feel that you, personally, have you received the help from the government that you should?

If you are not a vet, do you think we should do more, less, or about the same when it comes to supporting veterans?

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Categories: Uncategorized

Veterans: Should we stop thanking them?

Rory Fanning cover of Worth Fighting For

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Have you thanked a soldier for his or her service? I have, not knowing what else to do and wanting to say something. I’ve said it in the airport when I meet complete strangers in uniform. Sometimes they reply; sometimes they just look at me.

Is it time to stop thanking our veterans for their service?

That’s what many servicemen and women say: Stop thanking us.

Former Army Ranger Rory Fanning, for example, said that he doesn’t want gratitude for his service—he wants better policies, ones that don’t send so many young Americans to make the ultimate sacrifice. “There is no question that we should honor people who fight for justice and liberty,” he wrote. “Many veterans enlisted in the military thinking that they were indeed serving a noble cause, and it’s no lie to say that they fought with valor for their brothers and sisters to their left and right. Unfortunately, good intentions at this stage are no substitute for good politics.”

He wondered whether veterans would feel the gratitude intended by the Concert for Valor that was held Veterans Day on the National Mall. The free concert was sponsored by Starbucks, HBO, and Chase Bank, and featured mega stars like Bruce Springsteen, Metallica, Rihanna, and Eminem.

Springsteen, it turned out, sang some anti-war songs, such as “Fortunate Son.” He was blasted for his unpatriotic theme at a patriotic event. But others lauded him for singing it, noting that another form of patriotism is critical patriotism.

Critical patriotism, as I’ve documented in United America, is one of America’s 10 core values.

Intrigued by Fanning’s point of view? He has just published a book, Worth Fighting For: An Army Ranger’s Journey Out of the Military and Across America. The book is dedicated to his friend Pat Tillman, the former football player and U.S. Army Ranger who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2004.

Have you personally thank a soldier or veteran for his or her service?
Is it time to stop thanking our veterans?
What would be the best way to honor them?

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Categories: Critical Patriotism