COLUMN: If we lose our decency, we lose America

Many Americans are dissatisfied with the status quo of politics and governance.

ByABC News
July 14, 2017, 8:35 AM
The exterior of the White House in Washington, is pictured here in this undated photo.
The exterior of the White House in Washington, is pictured here in this undated photo.
Getty Images

— -- Yes, many Americans are dissatisfied with the status quo of politics and governance and have been for a long while.

Nearly two-thirds of the country believe we are off on the wrong track and not headed in the right direction. Congress, the President and both major political parties have dismal ratings among the public. Many Americans believe Washington, D.C., is a sea of dysfunction and not looking out for their interests or willing to solve the country's big problems.

All of this existed prior to Donald Trump's electoral college victory and in many ways was the reason he was able to turn a few thousand votes in the key industrial states of the Midwest to his favor. The status quo in Washington, D.C., isn't working and Americans have become fed up. For many "blowing up" politics as usual was the goal.

However, our democracy and our humanity depends on not throwing out norms of integrity and behavior in the quest to jettison the status quo. Keep in mind, President Trump was elected in spite of himself, not because of himself. Many Americans didn't like and don't like how he conducts himself in relation to others, but voted for him anyway out of a desperate desire for change.

We can't function as a community of people and as a nation without certain standards of how we treat each other and how we respect some fundamental virtues imperative to being citizens of this great country and the world. If truth no longer matters and we are unwilling to admit what is true, then we cannot have a common set of facts. Without a common set of facts, we can't get to the common good. At that point, our democracy is broken.

Even if we are upset with the status quo and are angry about many things, we must have a common language and actions of treating others with dignity and respect and, yes, love, regardless of standing, religion (or no religion at all), sex, race or any other aspect of being human. When we jettison some basic levels of human decency and look at everything as a win-at-all-costs mentality, we begin to lose our own souls and the soul of a nation.

The name-calling and "jokes" we make, while making ourselves feel good as we fight with others or the press may score us points in the short term, but we lose in this game of life which is such a precious gift. It is so easy to default into the rage against the status quo, which is leaving so many behind. But once we throw out some important human standards and are unwilling to accept truth, even while difficult, we become more of a "Lord of the Flies" society, as opposed to a civilized nation seeing all others as equally deserving of compassion and dignity.

It is imperative leaders send the right signals through words and behavior that certain norms of human interaction are crucial to a functioning community and democracy. Leaders who convey idea that everyone does it as regards to dishonest or corrupt behavior demean everyone who tries to take a stand of integrity. Winning by any means and playing "dirty" in any fight teaches citizens the exact wrong way to live and relate to one another. This applies not only to our political leaders, but business leaders as well.

We must end the "ends justify the means" politics that has taken us to this place of losing our common humanity. It is the means of politics and governance that is broken and we must fix that first before we can have a realistic debate about the ends of politics. If the means of governance are tainted or corrupt, a majority of the country will never accept the outcome. In contrast, if the means are from a place of integrity, we can all accept whatever policy is agreed to in consensus and on behalf of the common good.

Yes, we desperately need innovation in our politics and government structures -- they are the last two areas of our society that have not had real, fundamental change. I am as frustrated as anyone with the status quo, but as we toss away the broken "old," let us not throw out necessary norms and standards of morality and humanity that ensure we care for each other and our own souls. Because without a moral compass based in mutual love, we are lost at sea or bashed against the rocks of very cold and uncaring world.

Matthew Dowd is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent. Opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of ABC News.