Monday, December 10, 2012

Traditional American Values - A Worthy Model To Live By?

Amongst my conservative friends and acquaintances, a common mantra is the call for a return to "Traditional American Values" (or TAVs, for short) - almost always without a specific listing of just what those values are.  This absence of a listing is a crucial one, because I believe that most conservatives I know haven't really sat down and decided precisely what they believe those TAVs to be.  It would be interesting to have each of them do so, but on their own, without coaching from anyone else.  I suspect the lists would have a fair amount of variability.  I'm going to list some of the possible elements of those TAVS I think conservative might include, but without any attempt to be comprehensive:

  1. Belief in the god of the bible
  2. Regular church attendance
  3. Sex permitted only within the confines of heterosexual marriage, for the sole purpose of reproduction
  4. No artificial means of contraception
  5. Hard work and sacrifice
  6. Ambition
  7. Capitalism and free-market competition
  8. Frequent and open displays of patriotism
  9. Generosity toward the disadvantaged
  10. Democracy
  11. Compromise as a means of solving conflict
  12. Honesty
  13. Importance of family

However, I doubt if any conservatives would want to list the following as TAVs:

  1. Racism and bigotry - tribalism
  2. Aggressive wars of unilateral (or nearly so) intervention on foreign soil
  3. Genocide
  4. Slavery
  5. Wide disparity between the rich and the poor
  6. Discrimination in the workplace, schools, and in the community
  7. Xenophobia and isolationism
  8. American arrogance
  9. Special privileges for the rich
  10. Tyranny of the majority
  11. Cover-ups and propaganda
  12. Intrusion of government into the sexual lives of consenting adults
  13. Welfare for the wealthy and privileged

This despite the fact that all of the second list above have been elements of American life for most of its entire existence, and hence could easily be considered "traditional" values, of a sort.  Values could be said to include not just our ideals, but what we actually do, after all. 

The fact is that America has encompassed a broad range of values during its relatively short history.  The important issue in defining TAVs is to decide who gets to make out the "official" list!  If we consider the diversity of the American people,  all of whom either came here from somewhere else or their ancestors did, I'm going to guess that if we were to conduct a comprehensive survey, the TAV lists would be all over the place.  What's traditional about American values is that we don't agree on what those values are!!

What I would propose as the ideals that should be considered TAVs are those embodied in our national Constitution, including its Amendments.  There's nothing in the Constitution about sexual orientation, or political viewpoint, or economics, or religion precisely because the framers felt that those were private issues - not to be subject to the whims of a national government.  The ideals in the Constitution have been under siege for the duration of the USA, and often are honored more in the breach than by observance.  Some people just can't seem to shake off the notion that they have the right to tell other people what they should think, say, and do.  We've not done a good job of living up to the very ideals that form the only true basis for our nation.  Our nation is not a nation based on the values of any religion - to say so is to ignore history or to try to revise it to fit some other goal, like imposition of a theocracy.

Many of the conservatives I know are in favor of various violations of our Constitutionally-guranteed rights and freedoms.  They support the intrusion of their views on religion and most definitely sexual behavior (rules about sex they themselves typically don't follow!) into federal, state, and local government, and at the same time claim to be persecuted for their beliefs!  They want to disenfranchise anyone with whom they disagree, silence dissent, and force us all into lockstep with what they think is right!  That's not a TAV - it's fascism/theocracy!  What many conservatives call TAVs are often radical new notions that are quite poisonous and contrary to the ideals of the Constitution.  They pine wistfully for a return to what they think are TAVs, even though most of their nostalgic look backward in time is bogus, revisionist history.

I'm all for a return to the values embodied in the Constitution, but not the radical notions of many so-called conservatives.  Spare our nation from their vile notions about American values!


Garrett Fornea said...

It's interesting that either side of the great debate (Republicans vs. Democrats) blames the other side for shoving an agenda down the Americans' throats, and refuse to realize that they are trying to shove their own agenda down the Americans' throats. They both claim that their side is what freedom and America are traditionally about.
I don't agree with the vast majority of President Obama's policies...but looking fairly at the Constitution, several of President Bush's aims were quite unconstitutional and anti-American as well:
Patriot Act - violates the right to privacy and essentially exchanges our liberty for security.
War in Afghanistan - we had a legitimate reason for war, but it was not properly declared.
War in Iraq - it was neither reasonable nor properly declared.
Attempted Marriage Amendment - I personally don't agree with same-sex marriage, but I see nothing in the Constitution that gives Federal Government the power either to protect it or ban it! Leave that mess to the local governments, where the values of the people are best protected!
However...the freedom to express myself and my values peaceably; to disagree with my government in a civil manner (if possible); to defend myself from threats foreign and domestic; to conduct my own private affairs without unreasonable interference or invasion; to be judged through due process of law and not the arbitrary will of earthly men; and to join my neighbors and relatives in helping determine the course of our region and our country - these are what I believe the Traditional American Values are.
Both sides are wrong for trying to shove their agenda down our throats. The values set forth at the founding of this country were meant to be a middle ground on which everyone could meet as fellow countrymen, and neither persecute nor be persecuted.

Chuck Doswell said...


In my opinion, the "both sides are wrong" argument boils down to a convenient way to dismiss the asymmetry between liberals and conservatives so evident in the last Presidential election. It was the conservatives who did by far the majority of the lying, while wrapping themselves in the mantle of "traditional American values".

Your terminology - "force their agenda down our throats" - would seem to preclude any effort to endorse any set of policies, or even a single cause. If politicians aren't allowed to advocate what they believe in (assuming, for the sake of argument, they actually believe in anything), what's the point of political debate in the first place? If voters aren't allowed to vote for politicians who share the beliefs, what's the point of voting? Everyone has an agenda. In a democracy, the majority has a mandate to push their "agenda", but what matters in the Constitution is that the minority has certain rights that can't be infringed upon in the process.

Persecution seems to be the slogan of the conservatives to me, not the liberals. They're constantly whining about being attacked and persecuted - portraying themselves as victims of the "tyranny" of the liberals, which is a fictional absurdity - even as they press their own attacks!

Garrett Fornea said...

Dr. Doswell,
I was merely trying to express a moderate stance. I agree that there are many professing conservatives that persecute those who are not conservative enough for them. I have a friend who once bombed my FB page with links to Politifact, so I am well aware of the asymmetry between the two parties. I am disappointed in my fellow conservatives, considering Christians AREN'T SUPPOSED TO LIE. Months ago, I believe pointed out on this blog, and will do so again, some prime examples of famous, debatably popular conservatives who do so are Bill O'Reilly and Rick Santorum. I have a word for men like them: fascists.
My comments about the agenda were meant to convey that such agenda as involving marriage, abortion, sexuality, and similar moral debates are not appropriate at the federal level. If one party finally wins, you only appease one half of the country and piss off the other half. My point was that they are not nationally traditional values; they are state and local values, and are best protected at state and local governments.
You stated that the majority has a mandate to push their agenda, while specific rights of the minority are protected. Since when has the modern Republican agenda given a damn about the minority? I state again, their agenda belongs at the federal level no more than the Democrats' agenda. I do not wish to take part in a nationalized healthcare system, nor do I wish to have the government tell me what I can and can't do in my own bedroom. I might add that I don't think we should be bombing countries in the name of establishing democracy! I'm sure there are many - I KNOW many - who feel the same way. My problem is that these things are being pushed at Federal level, to imposed upon the entire country, when (in my opinion) it would reflect the country's interests much greater at the state level. However, to clarify since I'm coming across as conspicuously supportive of States' Rights...I will say that the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights should apply to the state and local government, and that they belong to all Americans regardless of gender, race, national origin, economic/social class, orientation, et cetera. I'm not exactly on board with the people who want to take this country all the way back to 1776...or rather, since the Constitution and Bill of Rights didn't come into effect until later, the early 1790's...

Chuck Doswell said...


It's already the case that Constitutionally-guaranteed rights cannot be denied by state and local laws. Thus, for example, state or local laws that violate the separation of church and state are regularly struck down as unconstitutional.