One of the bleakest years in our nation’s history has culminated, perhaps inevitably, in the most vitriolic Presidential election season that most of us can remember. What to make of it all?
These days, hope can be hard to come by. One could hardly be faulted for assuming that the American people had long since given up on such long-standing public virtues as truth-telling and respect for others – or had decided that such virtues are now irrelevant in a President.
However, assume that, and you’d be wrong. You’d be wrong too if you assumed that, among Americans today, concern for our fellow citizens were another casualty of our troubled times – or that Americans had wearied of trying to advance the collective good.
In fact, we took away quite a bit of hope from the findings of our just-released Civic Engagement Survey, which probed the views of 1,004 adult Americans all across the nation and the political spectrum regarding personal values and public action. What we saw is that, with a dark year (thankfully) winding down, Americans are still holding fast to cherished values – and are committed to helping move the country from here to some better place.
What a President Must Do
According to our survey – conducted in early October with the leading research firm Engine Insights – Americans still agree, by big margins, that it’s important for a President to tell the truth, respect the military, have a strong vision for the country’s future, and treat others with respect.
The problem, of course, is that our enduring embrace of core values hasn’t been well served by our increasingly fractious politics. Three of four say it’s hard to know what’s best for the country given the tone of today’s political discussion. More than eight in 10 say they are more frustrated about the state of the union than they were four years ago.
When it comes to the advancing the common good, Americans seem to know what they want in their leaders – but they aren’t waiting on them. More than half say they are engaged now in social and civic activities like volunteering, joining organizations, demonstrating, speaking out and posting opinions, and more. And the very engaged say they intend to keep all of that up, even if their Presidential candidate wins this year.
A Straightforward Prescription
But strikingly, Americans have an even simpler prescription for what ails our public life: The vast majority, Democrats, Independents and Republicans alike, say “the political climate would improve if Americans spent more time helping others.”
In this horrific year, America retains a sizable wellspring of civic concern, shared empathy, desire to make a difference – and plain decency. Whatever the future might hold, that’s a hopeful sign. But we need worthy leaders, in all spheres of our common life, to really make the most of it.
At this writing, it’s mid-October, and Americans have yet to render a final decision on our leadership for the next four, critical years. Yet, an 18th century French philosopher memorably observed that “every nation gets the government it deserves.”
So – what do we deserve? Our survey suggests an answer.
-Jim Marren, Tiller President