There Are No Consequences for Bad Behavior
It is no surprise to me that a record-high 50% of Americans rate the overall state of moral values in the U.S. as "poor," and another 37% say it is "only fair." Just 1% think the state of moral values is "excellent" and 12% "good." These are the results of a Gallup Poll released on June 15, 2022.
According to the poll, although negative views of the nation's moral values have been the norm throughout Gallup's 20-year trend, the current poor rating is the highest on record by one percentage point.
Causes of the Moral Decline
Why do Americans rate the moral values of its citizens so low? All we need do is think about the mass killings just in the last two months. From Buffalo to Uvalde to Highland Park, crazed killers go on a shooting-sprees and kill or wound dozens of innocent people. But it goes much deeper than that.
We are more than half-way through the year and the country has already experienced at least 309 mass shootings so far. At least 309 in just over 26 weeks. This averages out to more than 11 a week.
The tally comes from the Gun Violence Archive, an independent data collection organization. The group defines a mass shooting as an incident in which four or more people are shot or killed, excluding the shooter. The full list of mass shootings in 2022 can be found here.
Narcissistic Behavior is a Contributing Factor
I am tempted to say we have a sick society, but that is too easy an explanation. What we have is a society that has lost its way from a communitarian perspective. All too many of our fellow citizens care less about others and their welfare and more about their own narcissistic needs.
Politicians are the most-guilty offenders here. Many acted in their own self-interest during the early Covid outbreak and related shutdowns. From California Governor Gavin Newsome dining at the upscale restaurant, French Laundry, to speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi’s salon visit, we see a moral blindness in that these and so many other politicians did not consider how their actions might look in the eyes of a struggling public.
But wait. There’s more. Texas Senator Ted Cruz escaped to Mexico with his family as the state was dealing with the crippling effects of an unprecedented winter storm. I could go on, but you get the point. Our politicians do not seem to know right from wrong, only what is in their self-interest.
I am still just touching the surface. Never have we witnessed so many Americans content not to look for a job but, instead, live off government subsidies available under unemployment or other programs. In other words, the strong work ethic that built this country is in the shadows rather than front and center. Should we admire such people? Are they acting in the best interests of society? Who pays for their needs? Do we even care?
I’m not saying many Americans don't deserve a hand-up, only that many do not. For them, it’s easier not to work than work and assuming they can make a living by doing so, the abusers set a bad example for the younger generation. Moreover, job openings go unfilled.
In 2021, the U.S. employment rate stood at 58.4 percent. Labor force measures are based on the civilian non-institutional population 16 years old and over. The U.S. inactive labor force is a seasonally unadjusted monthly number. In May 2022, the inactive labor force amounted to about 99.52 million people.
What Does the Future Hold?
Returning to the Gallup poll, while most Americans have a bleak outlook about the current state of moral values in the nation, they are also mostly pessimistic about the future as well, with 78% saying morals are getting worse and just 18% getting better. The latest percentage saying moral values are getting worse is roughly in line with the average of 74% since 2002, but it is well above the past two years' 67% and 68% readings.
To better understand where Americans see problems with moral values, Gallup asked respondents to name the most important problem with the state of moral values in the U.S. The most common response does not touch on any issue that has been the subject of public debate or social policy legislation in recent years, but rather on a more fundamental aspect of the way people treat each other. More Americans cite consideration of others (18%) than any other issue, as was the case when Gallup previously asked this question 10 years ago.
Beyond consideration of others, racism, lack of faith/religion, lack of morals, sense of entitlement and lack of family structure are mentioned by 5% to 8% of U.S. adults. Racism was less commonly mentioned in 2012 than it is now.
We No Longer Are a Civil Society
What does all this mean for a nation that used to pride itself on looking out for others? One word: incivility. We no longer respect others or care about their well-being. Yes, it's an overstatement but done so to make a point.
What about the rash of smash-and-grab robberies? It is happening all-too-often and nothing is being done about it. California, for instance, has a habit of not punishing certain offenders. When petty theft is involved (stealing items valued at $950 or less), the punishment is a misdemeanor with a six-month jail sentence. Often, no one is sent to jail. What is the message to these robbers? It is that bad behavior goes unpunished.
What about unruly airline passengers? The floodgates have opened in this regard. Some airlines have kicked passengers off planes, diverted planes to a nearby airports to get rid of the offenders, and/or restrained the offender on the plane. These jerks should be placed on a no-fly list.
The moral decline in America, in my view, challenges the long-accepted notion that America is exceptional. Our former President Ronald Reagan emphasized, “America is a shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere."
Many still believe this and point to all the immigrants who seek to enter the country mostly through our southern border. But let’s not forget that most of them are acting in an illegal manner and the government seems to turn a blind eye to it, which makes matters worse. Are we a country that no longer enforces its laws? Are we a country that no longer believes there should be consequences for bad behavior? I’d love to hear your opinion on these critical matters with respect to whether we can survive as a civil society going forward.
Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on July 12, 2022. You can sign up for Steve’s newsletter and learn more about his activities on his website (https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/) and by following him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.