Gallup released a depressing poll last week that it headlined, “Record-High 50% of Americans Rate U.S. Moral Values as ‘Poor.'” Like many Gallup polls, but perhaps more than most, this one suffered badly from a failure a define terms and to ensure that respondents were basing their judgments on the same understanding of “values.” Using the term “moral” rather than “ethical” to define values is a crippling error: it automatically directs attention to religion. This, in turn, probably explains this chart…
…in which twice as many Republicans as Democrats rate the state of “moral values” as “poor.” About twice as many Republicans and Democrats are religious: the result was preordained. Morality involves behavioral codes, notably the Ten Commandments. Republicans are more likely to believe that such codes should guide conduct, although the whole point of moral codes is that one doesn’t have to think: just follow the code, and you’ll be “good.” Democrats have increasingly embraced the idea of subjective values and personal codes, “pursuing one’s truth.” Their idea of poor values are values that seem contrary to their objectives.
The poll does not rank values, or even require respondents to identify what values they think are being violated or ignored. Thus the figures given for various measurements in the poll are by definition apples, oranges and eggplants mash-ups. For example, a core ethical value is fairness, but progressives increasingly believe what is fair is for everyone to achieve the same level of success, security, comfort and power regardless of effort, ability, or contributions to society. Conservatives believe fairness means that every individual should be allowed to achieve according to his or her aspirations and best efforts given the resources, talents and opportunities distributed by the vicissitudes of life and luck, and keep and use the rewards of those efforts, if any. Asking whether a group believes that life in the U.S. is fair when the group holds diametrically opposed definitions of the word is useless.
Similarly, an increasing component of the American Left believes that the U.S. Constitution embodies the wrong values. They believe it would be more “moral” to censor speech so as not to “harm” vulnerable populations; to keep “dangerous” ideas and “misinformation” advocated by Bad People from being heard or read. They believe that a right to self-defense is “immoral” because the tools of self-defense can be used to kill. They also believe, as we have seen in recent weeks, that it is “moral” to allow the mass killing of the unborn, because otherwise women are hindered in their opportunities and life choices by “unfair” biology. Most conservatives view those positions as opposition to American values.