unifying norm in American

Response one pod-03

In the face of such a diverse “melting pot” nation, perhaps the most unifying norm in American is the people’s shared political culture. This term is appropriate here because it is inclusive of the sum total of values most commonly shared. According to many political scholars, the value Americans collectively place on democracy is the key to our unity (Edwards, Howell and Wattenberg 2018, 16). There are many who would disagree—most obviously those who are members of the Communist and Socialist parties that operate with the nation. Most recently, Senator Bernie Sanders gained large support during the 2016 Presidential campaign as an Independent Socialist, demonstrating a shift in the political culture. His following was so strong that Sanders was able to defeat mainstream Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in 23 primaries, but he ultimately lost the nomination by about 10% of the popular votes (and countless superdelegate votes) (Andrews, Parliapiano and Bennett 2016).  Many wonder if, in the increasing diversity of our nation, there even exists a common set of values (Parham n.d.). Perhaps that may also explain the rise of unconventional candidates like Bernie Sanders.

To others, this might indicate the growing alarm among Americans of the steadily increasing division between rich and poor, which President Obama referred to as “the defining challenge of our time” (Obama 2013). This gap challenges one of the five fundamental elements of the American democratic creed, listed by famed sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset as: Liberty, Individualism, Laissez-Faire, Populism and Egalitarianism (1996, 19). Many Americans are becoming disillusioned with the political power of the wealthy, who have the ability to engage in electioneering, lobbying, and litigation to get their interests turned into policies. The concerns and realities of those who are most likely to be in poverty—women and minorities—are, therefore, not as readily addressed. In fact, the vast majority of money spent on lobbying in DC, and the overwhelming majority of lobbyists themselves represent corporate America, a statistic that was not always true of interest group sway (Drutman 2015). These lobbyists get results, too. The number of business regulations are declining rapidly under the current administration, as is the amount corporate America must pay in taxes. The increasing number of interest groups in America representing the increasing numbers of points of view is leading to what some refer to as “hyperpluralism” – an inundation of groups all vying for policies which leads to gridlock. All of these factors lead to growing divisions, which is a continuing problem for the U.S.

Egalitarianism does not exist within hiring, either, as women (discussed last week) and minorities are often overlooked in hiring (Wessel 2003), perpetuating the rich getting richer and the poor, poorer. This is made worse by the false belief among Americans that the wealthy are “winners” and “virtuous,” while the poor are “evil” or “losers” as discussed by Harvard scholar J.L. Hochschild in the book Facing up to the American Dream: Race, Class and the Soul of the Nation (1995, 23). Not only does this cause a dangerous division, this erroneous judgment and simultaneous idea that success is measured by material gain is, according to Hochschild, “a threat to the body politic” because the door is opened to those who wish to usurp power, which links perfectly to the growing powers of the wealthy in government (22).

In an age of hyperpluralism, domination by the elite, growing party polarization, and growing diversity, a unifying factor, whether it by Lipset’s fundamentals or not, is going to be essential to our survival as a nation. According to international development scholar Lawrence E. Harrison, the key to the stability of a democracy is found in the trust that citizens have for one another (Harrison 2008). Trust is sadly lacking in this nation—trust of the citizenry to the polity, trust between the rich and poor, trust among the myriad of groups that make up our diverse nation. Harrison argues that this trust comes from a much-needed homogeneity within the nation (2008). Further, he says that the common values held by Americans that helped us create a “mutual identification” is what has facilitated the trust necessary for the wealth, success, and achievement America has seen in its first few hundred years as a nation (2008).  Our nation’s shared cultural identity, and therefore its trust, is being challenged as Americans become increasingly “narcissistic” (Renshon 2011). Unless Americans can find a new common ground to hold on to, the increasing violence and turmoil of the last few years will continue to heighten. This needs to begin with all Americans engaging in the democratic process, so that the democracy can truly be what Lincoln envisioned – a government of, by and for the people. America needs to look to electing individuals who are willing to find this common ground, not continue to divide through exclusionary rhetoric.

Andrews, Wilson, Alicia Parliapiano, and Kitty Bennett. “2016 Delegate Count and Primary Results.” The New York Times. July 6, 2016. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/us/elections/primary-calendar-and-results.html.

Drutman, Lee. “How Corporate Lobbyists Conquered American Democracy.” The Atlantic. April 20, 2015. https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/04/how-corporate-lobbyists-conquered-american-democracy/390822/.

Edwards, George C., Martin G. Howell, and Martin P. Wattenberg. Government in America: People, Politics and Policy. New York: Pearson, 2018.

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