We Need to Return to the Common Good
I’ve been hearing a lot about the term “The Exhausted Majority.” It refers to the belief that generally, the American public is more flexible in their political views, fed up with polarization, believe we can find common ground, and are less active in our political discourse. Nationwide, they represent two-thirds of the population, yet are not as present in our public debates.
What most Americans seek in our elected officials is to do their best to find that common ground and to achieve results. That’s what they were hired to do.
The problem is given the divisions in the country over most issues (e.g., abortion, gun control, immigration and so on), our differences are so entrenched that we have now have split into two camps – the extreme left and the extreme right, although most Americans are in the middle with respect to social and political issues.
According to a recent survey in the aftermath of the midterm elections, the challenge for officials is to realize that most Americans do not hold extreme views. Officials might think so in part due to their propensity to view Americans through the lens of the “wings”— the loudest and stubbornest arms of each party. And as a result, we find that Republicans and Democrats grossly overestimate whether members of the opposing party hold extreme views.
Politicians strategically capitalize on these misperceptions to stoke fear of the “other side” and mobilize support. It is a strategy that has proven to be successful, and widely adopted by members of both parties. Lost in the battle is the notion that places the common good above all else.
Many people, like me, are tired of feeling like everything is a disaster, everything is at risk, that we are stressed out about our future and worried about how it might affect our kids and grandkids. One problem as I see it is the lack of inspiring leadership. I like Joe Biden but he’s no JFK, Ronald Reagan, or Barack Obama for that matter.
Despite the portrayal of a “divided” nation, we don’t have to choose this story of polarization and division. To do that, we should resist the temptation to view our fellow Americans’ views through the narrow lens of the divisive voices we hear in our public arenas. We need to find common ground. That seems impossible given the political divide in Congress and the “gotcha” game politicians play when they come into power.
If you’re old enough like me, you will remember that in 1976 there was a classic movie called Network. In it, anchorman Howard Beale yells: “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” This immortal refrain was said by actor Peter Finch, who one a posthumous Oscar for the role. This is the way I feel these days.
What can we do to convince our leaders that we are serious about creating a balance, at least on political and governance issues? First and foremost, we should vote out of office anyone who stokes the fires of fear. We don’t need it. It’s uncivil. It goes against what we should stand for as Americans.
In Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s The Social Contract, composed in the mid-18th century, Rousseau argues that society can function only to the extent that individuals have interests in common, and that the end goal of any state is the realization of the common good. We need to reinvigorate our belief that we can make for a better society by realizing that our actions affect others; we care about each other; will look out for each other; have compassion and empathy for others; act with kindness; act in ways that make others better off as well as ourselves; spread happiness not despair; and strive to be the best versions of ourselves as possible.
Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on February 14, 2023. You can sign up for our newsletter and learn more about Steve’s activities by checking out his website at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow me on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.