A recent poll shows a slide in values essential to the Republic, especially among the young. Fading are patriotism, faith, willingness to sacrifice, including for children, and tolerance for others. The question is why? The answer is – we are failing to teach. Truth is that way.
The Wall Street Journal reported that, since 1998, those calling patriotism “very important” fell from 70 percent to 38 percent, religion from 62 percent to under 40 percent, having children from 50 percent to 30 percent, and tolerance for differences from 80 percent to under 60 percent.
These are sobering facts, a slap in the face to those who believed in, sacrificed for, and built America. Republics are based on transferring values forward; we are plainly failing at this.
America arose from an unwavering belief in individual liberty, the sanctity of individual souls, and power of those souls, working together as one People, to govern themselves.
Majority rule was balanced with protecting minority groups and views, three branches of federal government balanced with State powers, and all government given limits – in the Bill of Rights.
Until America’s founders put these ideas into practice, no nation had. Until America created our Constitution and Bill of Rights, no such system of existed for federal action, states’ rights, and self-governance premised on God-given individual liberties.
The idea was genius, maximum freedom to all individuals – political and economic – limited only by maximum protection of the rights of all other individuals.
What did that produce? The most free, prosperous, unabashedly faith-centered, other-regarding nation in human history, one that regularly self-corrects by reference to that Constitution and even waged a Civil War to self-correct racial inequality, thus elevating and honoring all souls.
So, let’s get back to the values which are fading – patriotism, religion, fidelity to children, and tolerance for others’ views. Let me unpack this failure to teach, value by value.
One cannot love what one does not know, and cannot know what one disparages from ignorance. If patriotism is love of country, it fades in proportion to the “unknowing” of how good a society is – that is, about our founding ideals, our past sacrifices, and our selflessness.
Older Americans confess patriotism – at a rate double younger Americans – for a reason. They are not senseless. Their love of America is a measure of depth, gratitude, and understanding – based on living. They appreciate what they have lived, risks and rewards, failures until success, the loss of fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and siblings to war.
When we read that younger Americans are less “patriotic,” reality is shouting at us. Too often, these young people do not understand the nation’s origins, founders’ genius, what brought us to life, values and sacrifices required to sustain and grow the nation – making possible their lives.
In truth, this is not their fault. Younger generations draw their understandings from those who are older, who either teach or do not teach what they know.
To be a patriot is not to profess our nation is free of faults, but to understand our unrivaled status in history and the world, the genius of pluralism, power of individual freedom – economic and political – to lift all souls, and limitlessness of pursuing equal opportunity for all citizens.
Americans are on a quest – which we originated and lead – to realize our founding values, honor the sanctity of every soul, balance of individual liberties with equality of opportunity for all.
That brings me to the second fading value, faith. If history is rightly taught, one connects the dots, seeing in our Constitution – not to mention America’s other-regarding nature and generosity of heart – a reflection of our founders’ faith.
This is not a small matter. Those who have kept the nation free, risen to defend and preserve us, from the inside out and outside in – have generally believed in a merciful God, in freedom over every other option, and in the power of right to prevail. We should take a page from their faith.
As Lincoln quipped, “…my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.” Elsewhere he noted, “…if we lose our freedoms, it will be because we have destroyed ourselves from within.” Faith is essential; it sustains and protects, fortifies and in the quiet of the night, offers insight for the reflective soul.
As for children, and a willingness to look forward, give forward, sacrifice for others, and do so with an uncompromising heart – this is a value that raises not just the child, but the parent. We must say so. In giving we receive.
As for tolerance, this is the essence of pluralism, of any republic or democracy. Tolerating other’s views is what allows self-correction. Behind tolerance – actually motivating it – must be a sincere interest in truth, and the humility to know no one has a monopoly on it.
Clearly, America is at a crossroads. We will either educate succeeding generations about America’s “exceptional” nature, a word Alexander de Tocqueville used for us, or we will fail to understand ourselves, our obligation to those who follow, and will fail the future.
As Lincoln pointed out, “The philosophy of the schoolroom in one generation is the philosophy of government in the next,” to which he added, “He has a right to criticize who has a heart to help” – and with wry humor: “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.” May we pass forward what we know, hoping it sticks as it should. Truth is that way.
Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman2 for AMAC.