The New American Ethic
Let's see what we can get away with.
May 19, 2004
This morning I found myself drowning in absurdity as I scanned the headlines and gave cursory attention to national television news.
These are but today’s examples of "Let’s see what we can get away with," (or "what they will put up with") as the new American ethic. It probably is not all that new, but after taking on this column I have become increasingly aware of it.
Looking back - I came of age and was married by the time Eisenhower left office - I see its insidious progress in the last forty-five years. It is not in the least tied to partisan politics, because Republicans - the vaunted party of American values - have won the "bully pulpit" of the White House in eight of the last thirteen presidential elections.
The trumpetry about "American values," is itself an example of the new American ethic, treating values as ideals when they are designed to be motives. Yes, values are sometimes motives. They fill the pages of The Reader’s Digest and Guideposts. But as motives they do not fill the front pages. "American values" rarely drive the events reported there, no matter what their origin. I do not hear from our political, religious, and academic leadership the ethical questions of Is this true, is this right, is this good? What I hear are the unethical questions, Will this get us what we want? Will it work? Can we get away with it? Will the public put up with it? As long as these questions are motives, the new American ethic is actually not an ethic at all.
About the Author:
Barnabas's family came to the United States soon after independence. Ten generations or so have been born here. He wants future generations to be as grateful for, and as proud of, this country as he and his ancestors have been.
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