The Corruption of the American Character

Debra Reynolds
I am a rural girl running barefoot. My interests are writing, reading, nature, autism & epilepsy.
Social Ethics

Oct 03,2018

Show me the man you honor, and I will know what kind of a man you are. It shows me what your ideal of manhood is, and what kind of a man you long to be. –Thomas Carlyle  

Honesty is the best policy. If I lose mine honor, I lose myself. –William Shakespeare

I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man. –George Washington 

Not so long ago, America was a country which valued honesty, character and virtue. Sadly as we look around today, we find the opposite has become true. How did this happen? How did we go from “A Man’s Word is His Bond” to “Nobody Matters But Me”.

Of course there are still decent, honest people out there doing the right thing. However, if you take the “temperature” of the country based on character, you will find a disturbing trend over decades. It’s become accepted that everyone lies. 

In fact, most people don’t even consider the possibility any more. They shut off their brains and accept whatever they’re told, and pass it along as fact. One glance at social media will reveal that. There’s been an interesting meme going around for some time, that still catches some people unaware. “Did you know? The word ‘gullible’ isn’t even in the dictionary!”

How did we get here? To where it’s just accepted that politicians, lawyers, and (EVEN!!) journalists lie. Nothing you can do about it, after all. That’s just how it is. 

Perhaps it’s the ads which bombard our every waking moment (and for some, our sleep as well). Watch a few ads and think critically about them. Not only are they incredibly stupid, but most are blatant lies, exaggerations or fabrications. 

Or the things we tell ourselves. 

“Everyone cheats on their taxes.”

“Everyone lies to their boss.” 

“Everyone speeds, or parks illegally, or [fill in the blank].”

It seems as though our country has become one of those tabloid ‘newspapers’ that are sold at grocery checkout stands. Anyone can say anything about anything, and whether you believe it or not, it’s accepted behavior. It’s “normal” and after all, “who are YOU to judge?”

Other cultures have different standards. They’re not wrong, they’re culturally different. There are cultures where lying is expected by everyone, and so everyone is alert to discover the truth. They’re all on an equal playing field, and they’ve adjusted to that. It’s their culture, it’s their right. 

But it’s NOT American culture. The country which was founded and protected by men such as “Honest Abe” and the little boy who grew up to be President, who said, “I cannot tell a lie” has become a land of “I’ll tell you whatever I need to, to get what I WANT.” (Yes, I know the Washington story is an allegory–not specifically true that anyone can prove, but given as an example of the character of the man, condensing him to an essential fact.) 

How did this happen? The culmination was when an American President lied under oath. But it began long before. It’s time to stand up for the truth, to stand against liars, to become people of character, and hold our neighbors socially responsible for their own. 

It’s time to redeem the American character. And if all any of us can do is live well and honestly, and refute lies wherever we find them, we may find our way back to true character. 

What do YOU think? 

PHOTO from, photographer: Jose Francisco Fernandez Saura

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