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Challenges Section







A Return to Values
A big, but worthy, project for writers, educators, and the media
Challenges for Democracy series, Article 7

Copyright © 2005 Dorian Scott Cole
About this series.


We are a nation divided and getting more so. Is there something that we can we do to pull us back together, or will we decline as did the Roman Empire? What kind of leaders and platforms should we look for in the 2006 and 2008 elections?

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In the 2006 and 2008 elections, we need to turn around the direction that our country is going, and this is a job for the people who have the most reach into our society: writers, educators, and the media. We are going the way of the Roman Empire, falling into decline, and we are smarter and better people than that. Think not? The once all powerful Christian Roman Empire fell because of a decline in values, public health and environmental problems, political corruption, an ineffective economy, urban blight, and military spending. The barbarians moved in.

Sound familiar? The barbarians are at the gate. These same problems wind through the US today, and it is up to us what we do about it. We need to change the polarizing influence that is dividing and destroying us and replace it with a unifying influence. That unifying influence is the things we stand for (our values, such as democracy).

George Stephanopolous stated the case very well in his recent broadcast, A Country Divided: Examining the State of Our Union, Sunday, July 2, 2006. We are becoming more and more polarized, and research bears out how and why it is happening. What we do about it is up to us.

Division is an insidious influence, and as Abraham Lincoln said (paraphrasing Christ), "A house divided against itself cannot stand." It took a terrible Civil War to sear the wound caused by polarizing differences of opinion.

There are those who would have us believe that we are no more than Republicans and Democrats, red and blue States, liberals and conservatives, moral and immoral, religious and irreligious. Yet we are none of these things even as we all sometimes resemble or embrace all of them. We are people united in a single cause, seeking the good of all, expressing ourselves through democracy. We are a people with a strong sense of values.

We may debate the best way to achieve our values; we may have grand experiments and sometimes grander failures, but we try and we achieve great successes. We pursue and achieve our values - those things that we believe in.

To bring our way forward back into focus, we need to clarify and reaffirm our values. Our values are well stated in The Constitution of the United States of America, with its Bill of Rights, and The Declaration of Independence. These values are hammered out every day in legislation in the Congress and the deliberations and rulings of the Supreme Court. We need to remind ourselves of what we stand for. Both of these institutions should prepare statements on what our values are, as reflected in our documents, state why these values came to be, and how they have been served for the good of all. These should be elaborated on in our educational institutions and media.

These values aren't small matters. We have people fighting terrorism around the world because of attacks on our values. We have had men and women fighting and dying in world wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and many other conflicts, to defend and promote these values. People are willing to lay down their lives for them: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness - values that others would snuff out at the drop of a hat in favor of death, oppression, and living in political or religious tyranny.

A picture of the world without democracy

Imagine for a moment that we lack the freedoms given to us by our Constitution. Imagine instead that rulers act at their whim, or through misguided intentions. We need only look around us at the many countries who lack these freedoms, to know what our world would be like.

    Political tyranny. Many South American, Middle Eastern / Oriental, African, and Eastern European countries endure tyrannical rulers or governments. Some are worse than others, but they all have a basic disregard for human rights. Tyrannical rulers enforce their will on other people through the following ways:

  • Suppose you want to study another political system. You find that the books are not available, they are banned, and if you are seen reading one, you disappear from society for being "subversive." You are tortured, jailed, and possibly killed. Your family doesn't know what happened to you.
  • Suppose you object to some injustice or restriction the government places on you. Again, you disappear for being a "subversive."
  • Suppose you voice your opinion in a newspaper, and the government doesn't like what you say. Again, you disappear for being a "subversive."
  • Suppose you organize a protest group or cause the government any kind of trouble. A specially trained death squad finds you, takes you to a remote location, tortures you, and kills you... or they kill everyone involved on site and bury you in a mass grave. Your family has no idea what happened to you.

    Religious tyranny. Religious leaders have free reign in countries lacking well developed democratic systems. They feel that it is their duty to impose their particular view of what constitutes proper religion and proper behavior. Tyrannical religious rulers enforce their will on other people through the following ways:

  • Suppose you want to dress in a certain way that is not the custom of the religion. You may be beaten or thrown in jail by religious clergy or religious police. You may be tried for your crime and severely punished.
  • Suppose you want to read about another religion. If you can find the books, you may be beaten or thrown in jail by religious clergy or religious police. You may be tried for your crime and severely punished.
  • Suppose you want to follow another spiritual path or convert to another religion. The ruling religious clergy or police may beat and imprison you, and if convicted you may be sentenced to death.
  • Others in the community are encouraged to monitor and report your "immoral" behavior to the authorities. The local, self-appointed, religious monitors may not like the way that you lick your ice cream (tongue out of the mouth may be considered lascivious), or feel that you don't pray often enough. For example, in Saudi Arabia, you can report any perceived moral infraction that you see at this government Web site: Hesbah disapprove.

Tyrannical leaders and governments are guided by hatred of dissent, and by intolerance of differences. They impose their will on others through strict laws, close monitoring, and creating an environment of fear, suspicion, and force. Their idea of morality is a narrow view that often excludes actual moral behavior from their thinking, while focusing on their peculiar hang-ups. The ideas of freedom and democracy are against everything they believe in. The idea that people can be responsible, noble, and seek higher things, is inconceivable to them. The idea that people should be treated as anything but animals to be herded, is beyond them.

There are many in the US and Western World who would impose their political and religious ideas on us if they could find the opportunity. They continually try to impose their will on us through religious influence, legislation, and police action. Fortunately the news media, courts, and public opposition do not let them get very far.

We are a nation that has kept its doors open to others, particularly the oppressed and those seeking opportunity, regardless of their differences, as long as people respect the rights of others. We accept religious differences. We support the right of people to dissent, to express their opinions, and to assemble to discuss their opinions and protest. We do not accept a climate of fear, monitoring, suspicion, and coercion. We expect the government to represent the people, not be dominated by it. We have found that most people mature into responsible and caring people without being shaped, broken, or destroyed by strict laws, close monitoring, and strong enforcement. A little room is necessary to growth.

We are a nation where individual differences are recognized, yet we are united in common values. We are a nation of majority rule, and individual and minority rights. In unity we work for the common good, to achieve the values that we believe in.

These are some of the strong values that we are about as a people, and they are reflected in our Constitution:

What can we do together to make things better for all of us?

"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

- Excerpt from The Constitution of the United States of America.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

- Excerpt from The Declaration of Independence of the United States of America.

The negative - what we have to overcome

We stand at the threshold of a world in which massive economic, energy, environmental, and health problems in the US and other countries can be resolved. However, the past and current struggles of the US political system indicate several things (which is not a light observation, but comes from 50 years of watching US politics deteriorate):

  1. We are burdened with polarizing power struggles within Congress and our political races that prevent constructive action.
  2. Congress has proven that it is not able to effectively address and resolve many types of problems, such as health care availability, retirement funding, economic disparity, and energy sourcing, especially as the US and the world changes.
  3. A reformulation of the political process is needed to get around such things as power plays and paralyzing ideological conflicts between parties, and prevent the domination of special interest groups.
  4. Visionary approaches and leadership, rather than incremental adjustments, are sometimes needed to address many problems, such as the economy, environment, retirement economy, health care, and energy.
  5. 19th. Century methods don't necessarily support 21st. Century needs, so new methods may be needed.
  6. Leaders with vision who are in contact with people's needs and able to institute directions for major changes, are needed to shape the future - not simply leaders who are locked in place by special interest groups who know what is good for a group but not what is good for the people.
  7. Dissatisfaction with the Presidency and Congress at all levels, as reflected in approval ratings, indicates that there will be a backlash in coming elections... provided there are candidates with substantive approaches to problems.

Empowering tomorrow's leaders: unifying around our original values

We need to inspire, encourage, and foster visionary solutions for our future; inspire the grass roots support needed for political reformulation; assist with a mechanism that will help politicians and supporters transition away from blind party ideology; and enable free thinking and selection of effective ideas in the political path forward.

We need to be much more selective in our process of finding and electing leaders. The past 14 years have shown some qualities that are clearly needed:

  1. Conflict resolution skills. The political process is basically about addressing conflicting opinions and creating a path forward. It is a requirement for politics within one's own party, between parties, and in the world. The ability to resolve conflict in constructive ways, particularly win-win ways, is the paramount skill required of leaders.
  2. The ability to empower others. Leaders do very little themselves. They must inspire and empower their staffs, their parties, the Congress, and the people, to find and implement solutions.
  3. Ability to control change. The organizational combining that took place during the Bush Administration destroyed the effectiveness of two organizations: FEMA and the CIA. Neither destruction was necessary, and was very harmful. Understanding how to make changes and control the process of change are part of what a leader must know.
  4. Vision. If all that was necessary in leadership was to follow the trodden path, then a leader would be unnecessary. Leaders must have the vision to see where a new path must be, and how that path must be laid down.
  5. Strategic thinking that is value oriented, as opposed to ideology. Ideology is a closed, paralyzing influence - it permits very little new thought. Ideology dictates the path, not the objective. Value thinking focuses on the goal we want to reach, and strategic thinking emphasizes finding a good way to get there.
  6. Representative. Leaders seldom have wisdom trapped in their corner, and those who won't listen are simply following their own agenda. Leaders must have good listening skills and actually seek the opinions of other leaders and the people.
  7. Honor and integrity. Scandal brings the Presidency and other offices into question. Distrust ruins the process. Even President Clinton's affairs (and subsequent dishonest response) created major problems. The Bush Administration is decaying into suspicion and doubt over its honesty and tactics, and rendering it ineffective.
  8. A caring heart. A computer could as easily make decisions as a President, if concern over the people was not important. Every other skill is meaningless if a leader doesn't care about the people. Those who simply seek power should be screened out. People's prior actions tell what they care about.
  9. Practical experience. Being a leader is not a learning experience for pledges and neophytes. It takes someone who knows how to get things done.
  10. Ability to work with others. People who don't know how to work with other people typically ostracize others, do a lot of destructive and counterproductive behaviors, and end up spinning their wheels.

If leader wannabes lack the preceding qualities, they shouldn't even be considered.

Leaders with the preceding qualities deserve respect, support, and through these will gain the empowerment from the people to do what needs to be done.

Strategically implementing values

Following are some of the values that are essential in today's world:

  • Respect for other's ideas and opinions.
  • Respect for the social contract, especially as established in our Constitution and reflected in the heritage of many religions.
  • Win/win solutions that address everyone's needs, rather than win/lose contests or watered down compromises that are ineffective at anything.
  • Majority rule, minority rights.
  • Collective approaches and solutions to problems that we all can face better through leveraging the power of government.
  • Experience and strategic thinking, as opposed to ideology.
  • Fairness in government, law/justice, and social commitment.
  • Commitment to the spirit (intent) of our Constitution (as opposed to literalness), as a living document.
  • Concern about economic and political consequences in the US and world.
  • Balanced approach toward the economy, the poor, the wealthy, business, and the environment.

Issues of today:

  • Healthcare availability (ability of people to afford the system).
  • Economic growth and stability in the US.
  • Economic growth and stability in third world countries and trading partners.
  • Energy source appropriateness for the future.
  • Retirement funding and the crisis of corporate retirement fund collapses.
  • Environmental impact of energy policies and global warming.
  • Education: love for learning at an early age; high school effectiveness; university and polytechnic science, math, and engineering degrees.
  • Security: preparedness and natural disasters and Terrorism.
  • Freedom in other countries.

A final thought - what writers, educators, and the media can do: In the 1970s and 1980s, groups that were radically opposed to nuclear energy and the environmental impact of even constructing energy resource plants, made it very difficult to build any type of energy supply. No power plants have been built for over a decade, and US refinery capacity is insufficient to demand. Their arguments weren't without merit, but their polarizing influence was. Today, those evaluating the environment realize that nuclear energy is probably the wiser choice, yet it would be difficult to build enough nuclear plants at this stage to avoid the environmental impact of our other energy sources. Such is the result of those who polarize discussions - the environment is now worse off for them.

Today people use similar techniques to polarize people. I'm sad to say that much information put out by political and religious groups on many issues is simply propaganda that builds on ignorance. They know that lies and slander win elections. Their goal is to force their will on people. It is tyranny.

Neither the Democratic nor Republican parties currently have agendas (election platforms) that make much sense. The Republican agenda is recognized as too conservative, but the conservatives don't know where to go with it except to flee. The Democratic is recognized as weak, unfocused, not substantive, and ineffective, and they don't know how to make it stronger. The country is so divided that appealing to either side does not assure victory, so parties are pandering to any minority they can to pick up a few votes.

In the 2006 and 2008 elections, we need to turn around the direction that our country is going. The writers, educators, and the media in this country have the ability to help do that. They can help focus the debates back on our values. They can responsibly inform, debate issues in an enlightening and captivating way without resorting to polarization, seek solutions that address all aspects of issues (not just one side), and empower others to put it into action.

- Scott


Clean money, clean elections. "Public Campaign is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to sweeping reform that aims to dramatically reduce the role of big special interest money in American politics. Public Campaign is laying the foundation for reform by working with a broad range of organizations, including community groups around the country that are fighting for change in their states and national organizations whose members are not fairly represented under the current system. Together we are building a network of national and state-based efforts to create a powerful national force for federal reform." (

The Center For Health Transformation is "a collaboration of transformational leaders dedicated to the creation of a 21st century intelligent health system in which knowledge saves lives and saves money for all Americans." It is visionary in approach. (

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The role of the actions described on this page is informative and organizational, and does not strive for active lobbying or supporting of candidates as an intent or effect. The intent is to influence political discourse and direction. The actions of those who employ the information given here is an individual choice and not directly related to the actions of this Web site.

- Scott

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