Why America's Moral Values Are in Decline
Gallup Poll Blames a Sharp Political Divide
I have blogged many times before about the decline of moral values in America. We are falling off a cliff in that regard. Let’s face it: We have lost our moral compass as a society and it’s likely to get worse before it gets better. Just consider the following:
- Gun violence in our streets has risen by epic proportions.
- Racial injustice persists in our society.
- Black Americans have been gunned down by police for inexplicable reasons even with the #blacklivesmatter movement.
- Sexual harassment in the workplace has not been abated even after the #MeToo movement.
- Sexual assaults on college campuses have been increasing over time.
- Social media continues to post inappropriate images that can affect the behavior of young Americans.
- Politicians continue to say one thing but do something else – just to get elected—and some engage in inappropriate behavior.
I could go on, but you get the idea.
On June 24, 2021, Gallup released the results of a poll it took on the views of Americans on moral values. The results confirm what I have known for a long time. Our moral values are bad and getting worse.
According to the survey, nearly half of Americans believe the nation’s moral values are in poor condition, and a significantly higher percentage predict those standards are only going to get worse.
Interestingly, the survey also found political realities in the U.S. have driven those attitudes to higher highs and lower lows in the past 12 months depending on respondents’ views on the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
“Partisan shifts suggest that the transfer of power in Washington has had a stronger than usual effect on how partisans perceive the country’s moral compass, with Democrats now the most optimistic they have been in two decades and Republicans the least,” Gallup researchers said. The May 3-18 survey also uncovered movement in population-wide attitudes about moral standards.
“After dipping to 40% in 2020, the percentage of Americans describing moral values in the U.S. as ‘poor’ has returned to 47%, matching the 2019 reading and like perceptions since 2017,” Gallup said: “Meanwhile, fewer have described morals as only fair, and the percentages rating them as excellent or good have remained consistently low.”
Our moral values are in decline for many reasons including the following.
- Negative influence of social media including offensive words and images on sites such as YouTube and Instagram…and now we have TikTok in the mix.
- Negative influence of television and movies that portray violence as acceptable, even laudable in some case, thereby stimulating gun violence in our streets.
- Decline in civility in the way speak with each other. We have lost the ability to disagree with each other without being disagreeable.
- Lack of ethical leaders in America whether in politics, the government, the workplace, Hollywood, and/or sports.
- Lack of a work ethic: Think recent problems getting workers to return to work post-COVID or apply for jobs because unemployment benefits are greater than prospective pay.
I am particularly concerned about the effects of social media on K-12 kids. This is because youngsters can engage in online activities with inappropriate content for the following reasons.
- Joining social networks before reaching the minimum age.
- Playing games and using apps which are not age appropriate.
- Watching live streams which may show inappropriate content or taking part in them and unconsciously being exploited
Can we regain our moral values and reverse the decline and low ratings of morality? Yes, but it will take time. We didn’t get in the position we are in overnight. Our moral values have been in decline for at least 40 years, in my view. This corresponds to the explosion of social media sites that do not censure inappropriate content. Yes, we have freedom of speech but there must be reasonable limits to how far people can go with their posts online.
In my opinion, it is highly unlikely that our moral values will improve until and unless our educational institutions start teaching ethics in a meaningful way, and it should start as early as possible with K-12 kids. They must be taught there is a right and wrong and it is not subject to one’s whim or in a self-serving way. We should return to teaching about The Golden Rule.
Moreover, we all need to consider the consequences of our actions before we act, not later when the damage has been done as occurs in bullying youngsters.
My view is that America will remain in moral decline for the foreseeable future because no on in a position of power or influence is talking about it. Like any addiction, the first step in recovery is to admit a problem exists and we’re not there yet.
Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on July 20, 2021. Steve is the author of Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.