Selma: Did Martin Luther King, Jr. love America?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Selma
Still from Selma-the-Movie

CARE TO READ MORE? Film reviewer Edward McNulty gave the movie “Selma” 5 out of 5 stars. Click the photo to read McNulty’s entire review.

This weekend begins the 50th anniversary of the historic Selma to Montgomery marches. I was just a kid then, but I remember the horrific images of Bloody Sunday—the 7th of March, 1965—when hundreds of marchers were stopped, beaten, and tear-gassed on the Edmund Pettus Bridge by police and county posse. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the next two marches, the last one making it to Montgomery under federal protection.

All week we’ll discuss the marches and their effects, but today I want to ask this: Did MLK love America?

I raise this question in part because of recent claims that Obama doesn’t love America. It’s ironic that his patriotism has been called into question on the anniversary of the Selma marches. It began when former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani said in a speech that the president “doesn’t love America.” Overall, about a third of all Americans (35%) say Obama doesn’t love America, according to a YouGov.com poll. Republicans are much more likely to say Obama doesn’t love America, while the vast majority of Democrats (85%) say he does.

So, what about Dr. King? Did he love America? The answer depends more on when you ask than who you ask.

In the 1960s, King was one of the most hated figures in America, according to public opinion polls at the time. “A number of survey items asked about King in the mid-sixties show him more reviled than revered,” wrote political scientist Sheldon Appleton in 1995. In fact, King was “one of the most disliked American figures in the age of public opinion polling.”

For example, consider the results from a survey technique called the scalometer. This technique presents a respondent with a 10-point scale ranging from +5 to -5. In 1966, 41% of Americans rated King -5. Almost seven of ten Americans (68%) gave negative ratings.

Twenty years later, a huge shift in public opinion took place. In 1987, 76% of Americans gave King a favorable rating. This favorable rating has held firm. In 2013, for example, a poll by Rasmussen Reports showed that 80% of Americans had a favorable view of the great civil rights leader. Almost half had a very favorable view.

I have no doubts that King loved America, and that Obama loves America. They were what I call “critical patriots” in my recent book United America. They see what America should be and can be—and want to the nation to live up to its ideals.

What’s your opinion of Martin Luther King, Jr.?
Did he love America?
Does the president?

Share this series with friends …

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Categories: Critical PatriotismJustice and FairnessUncategorized

Race in America: Is racism a form of “mental illness”?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Race in America
Al Sharpton with Esaw Garner

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y.—Civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton with Esaw Garner, the widow of Eric Garner, at a protest in the Staten Island neighborhood where Eric Garner died after a choke hold by a police officer. (Photo by Thomas Good is provided for public use via Wikimedia Commons.)

The grand jury decision to not indict the New York City white police officer whose choke-hold resulted in the death of an unarmed black man sparked outrage by liberals and conservatives alike—especially as it followed the earlier grand jury decision to not indict the white police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO.

Together, these cases raise once again the troubling, persistent questions of race, race relations, and racism in America.

One prevailing answer to those questions: Racism is a form of mental illness. But, is it?

We have a tendency to think of racism this way, observes sociologist James M. Thomas in a recent issue of the journal Contexts. Thomas cites celebrities Paula Deen and Mel Gibson as examples of those “who have pledged publicly to seek treatment for their racism—reflecting a growing tendency to frame racist acts as a mental health issue.” Thomas’ analysis shows that framing of racism as mental illness is not confined to a few high-profile cases, but a widespread phenomenon.

The view of racism as mental illness is reinforced by the strength of the value of individualism in American society. It locates the source of the problem in the individual. Racism is seen as individual disease that can be treated with “individual treatment protocols” like psychological or drug therapies.

The problem with this framing, says Thomas, is that it focuses on the “lone racist” and underplays the larger cultural and structural causes of racism and its perpetuation. It focuses on the symptom rather than the underlying cause.

Sociologist Claude Fischer commented at length about Thomas’ argument; he pointed out several of the “institutional and structural features of society that reinforce ethnic and racial inequities.” These features include: “the way school systems are structured, funded and staffed; persisting neighborhood segregation; the several-generational consequences of low wealth accumulation and educational attainment; political districting that effectively weakens minority votes; and policing practices that have the consequence of disproportionate punishment.”

Do you think racism is—or isn’t—a form of mental illness?

What do you see as the underlying causes of racism in America?

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 PatriotismUncategorized

Elections: Will the American experiment fail?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Elections
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 that America 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?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Elections
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?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Elections
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?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Elections
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?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Elections
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