Are Americans Ready to Become More Involved?
Until recently, few Americans had heard of Vivek Ramaswamy, yet he is a candidate for the Republican nomination for President of the U.S. A wealthy millennial entrepreneur who has never run for political office, Ramaswamy was the target of a barrage of attacks during the Republicans' first debate.
The 38-year-old Ohio native is an Ivy League graduate who became a finance, pharmaceutical and biotech entrepreneur worth more than $950 million, according to Forbes. He is trying to appeal to millennials and to Gen-Z. The only problem is most of these folks are not enamored with millionaires but are drawn towards those who have adopted social entrepreneurship. That’s not Ramaswamy, although he is starting to pivot in that direction. As a student at Harvard University, Ramaswamy had a libertarian streak. He has since become a prominent conservative media star.
Woke: Social Justice
Ramaswamy has become known as the candidate pushing for anti-woke policies. In his book, Woke, Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam, he attacks the hypocrisy of corporations that adopt popular positions of Democrats and Libertarians, such as undertaking Environmental, Governance, and Social (ESG) policies, which is a form of social responsibility reporting.
Ramaswamy’s corporate work already had captivated the business press. But he’s increasingly criticized the social and ethical practices of companies — notably the embrace of liberal policies on the environment, social issues and corporate governance — and what he argues is virtue signaling on issues such as racial justice.
Ramaswamy is proposing a constitutional amendment calling for a revival of civic duty for young people and renewed national pride. He has said that: “Tying civic duty to the ultimate privilege of citizenship—voting—and conferring it to young people, accordingly, we have a better chance of restoring civic duty in America."
In another boost to national pride, he is also funding a $250,000 Vivek Ramaswamy Identity Scholarship for high school students, because he says too few young people are proud to be Americans. That may be, but I doubt that Ramaswamy’s suggestions will go anywhere. One reason is three-quarters of the states in the U.S. are required to ratify an amendment to the Constitution. Therefore, out of 50 states, 38 states or more are required. That’s a high bar to climb over.
I don't think Ramaswamy goes far enough with respect to identifying the underlying causes of disinterest in civics on the part of millennials and the Gen-Z generation. Our loss of national (civic) pride has been building for many years. We could go back to the Vietnam era when many Americans couldn’t understand why we were fighting that war, and cynicism developed in the country especially regarding our political leaders. Subsequently, a variety of events have occurred that have caused of the lack of civic values, civility, and pride in our country. Here is a partial list.
- Distrust in our government.
- Increasingly hostile political discourse.
- A lack of ethical leaders.
- Government corruption.
- Business fraud.
- Instances of sexual harassment that spurned the #MeToo movement.
- The death of young Black men by poorly trained police and inherent discrimination in social and political systems that have spurred the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
- A lack of sensitivity to the needs of a large segment of U.S. society, while financially supporting international causes.
- Failure to handle the homelessness crisis.
- Failure to deal with the immigration problem that siphons off funds needed for U.S. citizens and, especially, underserved communities.
- Smash-and-grab actions, many of which occur without confrontation or legal ramifications.
- Never ending instances of serial killings in our streets, workplaces, schools, and elsewhere.
If I could pick one cause of cynicism in the country it is that we have a government for the politicians and not serving the best interests of the public.
Declining Trust in Government and Each Other
A Pew Research study also points to the cynicism. It shows that many Americans think declining trust in government and in each other makes it harder to solve key problems. Here is a graph of the findings.
Do We need a Constitutional Amendment?
Ramaswamy has proposed a constitutional amendment that would require voters between the ages of 18 and 24 to pass a civics test before they can cast a ballot in any election unless they have service in the military or as a first responder. I like the latter part of this proposal. We all need to consider how best to serve our country. However, I don’t think passing the civics test is meaningful. Like all tests, like the ones taken in college, we can simply cram, perform well on the test, and then forget everything we’ve learned. Moreover, passing a civics test does not inculcate civility and civic duty. That comes with the passage of time and events that make us proud to be Americans.
What’s needed is to restore civic pride, but I don't think that will happen because there’s not a whole lot to feel proud about these days. Yes, I'm a cynic. So many people are suffering from emotional and mental problems that go undiagnosed and untreated. So many people are not held accountable for their actions. They apologize after they get caught doing something wrong but are only apologizing because they got caught. It’s created a society where inherent civic values, such as honesty, integrity, trust and responsible behavior have fallen by the wayside. So many people think about themselves, not others, and act selfishly.
Reclaiming Moral Values
I'd like to see Ramaswamy talk about the decline in moral values. Indeed, I'd like all the candidates to do so. It's more important than many other issues debated because without a moral compass, we can't overcome the problems facing our nation.
There's much to say about this but let me start with the loss of basic kindness towards others. When was the last time you said “please” or “thank you” to someone? Have you ever helped someone out—even a total stranger? Do you feel empathy for those dealing with problems? This is my personal favorite (i.e., gripe): "When was the last time you said 'excuse me' to someone in a movie theater or airline when leaving or finding your seat? Did you even move your feet to let them pass?"
What makes me most upset? It’s airline passengers who don’t respect personal space. Some claim the arm rest of another passenger. Some have no clue about basic etiquette. This isn't civil behavior, which is the foundation of a society bent on adding civics to the national identity. Watch this video as an example: (https://www.youtube.com/shorts/uU32Msb9YqY).
It's not all bad news. Some people do the right thing for the right reason. Watch a good person helping another passenger in need on an airplane: (https://www.youtube.com/shorts/WVLHdxxreyI).
Vivek Ramaswamy is trying to stir a nationalistic spirit, and that’s a good thing. His challenge is daunting. We’ve morphed into a self-serving society fueled by narcissistic behavior. It won’t be easy to turn it around and reclaim the moral high ground.
I came across a civics test and want to share it with my readers. It’s part of the civics portion of the citizens naturalization test. Click on the link and you’ll see the kinds of questions asked. The civics test is an oral test and the USCIS Officer will ask immigrant applicants up to 10 of the 100 civics questions. A passing grade is getting 6 out of 10 questions right. How did you do on the questions you chose to answer?
Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on September 12, 2023. You can learn more about Steve’s activities by checking out his website at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/ and signing up for his newsletter.