Since last Wednesday morning, I’ve been hearing a lot about the prominent role moral values played in the presidential election. I, an alleged card-carrying member of the Northeastern liberal elite, and my liberal comrades, have been told repeatedly that we are not only not members of mainstream America, but that we just don’t [or willfully won’t] understand mainstream America.
Funny, I kind of look and feel like a mainstream American. I’m middle-class, have been married for 12 years to a man I met in college, drive a six-year-old minivan, live in a 3-bedroom house on a quiet, suburban street, have two children and a dog, meet my daughter at the bus stop every afternoon and shuttle her to soccer games on the weekend, and work part-time in an attempt to achieve a palatable work-life balance.
And I’m white!
So how is it that I’m on the banks of the mainstream, rather than in its currents? I’ve been told that I fail a litmus test: I don’t attend religious services [unless someone gets married, christens a baby, or dies], and I don’t believe in a higher being. In particular, I’m not a Christian, and I am therefore outside the mainstream, in spite of all my other mainstream traits.
Some other non-Christians are occasionally swept into the mainstream, but only when it’s convenient. Jews who practice Judaism conservatively and Muslims who practice Islam liberally are brought inside the mainstream when they’re needed, such as during discussions of why George W. Bush won a second term, or why federally funded “faith based initiatives” are such a wonderful invention. Conservative Jews and liberal Muslims are marginalized most of the time [and liberal Jews and conservative Muslims all the time], but they’re convenient to the mainstream because they have just enough faith in an ancient book to be occasionally useful, but few enough practitioners that they pose no real threat to the real mainstream. Of course, Buddhists or anyone who practices a minor religion are clearly outside the mainstream.
Since I’m a non-believer, I’m told, I don’t share the moral values of mainstream America. Again, I think I look and feel like a mainstream American, morally speaking. I have no criminal record — heck, I’ve never even had a speeding ticket — I’m married, and I work, pay my bills, pay my taxes, respect my neighbors [even though I wish they’d do something about those damned leaves], do volunteer work, love my children and teach them to be kind to their friends [I think it will work, eventually], donate to charities, and support equality for all Americans.
On the whole, I think those are mainstream American values, don’t you? Well, all except for that last one — the belief that all Americans should be treated equally and have equal access to the American dream. Apparently, equality is not a mainstream moral value. In fact, the word “equality” doesn’t appear in the original ratified U.S. Constitution. I’m not surprised: those who wrote and ratified it believed wholeheartedly in inequality. Any reference to equality in the Declaration of Independence and other early American writing applies strictly to white men. Everyone else was put in his or her unequal place.
So, as this recent election has illustrated, the American mainstream maintains something akin to a Colonial-era adherence to the idea of equality. It values selective inequality and discrimination, justified by a particular moral code, and I think that’s immoral. I haven’t read that in a book anywhere; it just seems obvious that it’s immoral for a majority of people to willfully deny a specific minority of people access to the same things they have.
Since equality is obviously not a mainstream value, what kind of value is it? I’m going to call it a
upstream downstream value. It’s a value that is running ahead of the mainstream and that I believe — well, I hope, at least — the mainstream will catch up to in the relatively near future. [Sometime in my lifetime would be nice. We can always dream.] I can already hear the cries of elitism — some of you are very loud. But that’s okay. If it’s elitist to believe in equality, in actually ensuring equality for all Americans, and in not amending our constitution to specifically deny equality to a particular group of Americans, then I’m proud to be a downstream American.