Many of our political differences today stem from different perceptions of American history.
On the surface, it appears as if there’s a lot of common ground in understanding that history. Ninety-five percent (95%) of voters believe that the founding ideals of freedom, equality, and self-governance played an important role (including 74% who consider those ideals Very Important).
There’s also a broad recognition that there are many other strands of history that helped define the United States as a nation. Eighty-eight percent (88%) believe the tradition of pragmatic problem solving played an important role. Seventy-eight percent (78%) say the same about the Protestant work ethic and faith; 75% recognize that slavery played an important role; 74% acknowledge the importance of the political heritage and culture from England; 48% believe White Supremacy played an important role.
But once you look beneath the surface of that common understanding, it becomes apparent that we’re not all looking at the same history. While just about everyone agrees on the vital role played by our noble founding ideals, the same cannot be said about the importance of slavery.
- Forty-eight percent (48%) of voters under 50 believe Slavery play a Very Important role in the development of our country. Just 34% of older voters see it as that significant.
- Fifty-two percent (52%) of Democrats see Slavery as playing a Very important role in making our nation what it is today. That view is shared by 37% of Independent voters and 33% of Republicans.
- Not surprisingly, the racial divide is even wider. Seventy-nine percent (79%) of black voters say Slavery is a Very Important factor. Forty-eight percent (48%) of Hispanic voters agree along with 33% of white voters.
These contrasting perceptions play out in data showing that 66% of voters are proud of America’s history while 33% are ashamed. As you would expect, those who see Slavery as playing a larger role are more likely to be ashamed of our nation’s history. So, 50% of Democrats are ashamed of our history, a view shared by 31% of Independents and only 14% of Republicans.
For understandable reasons, 66% of African-American voters are ashamed of the U.S. history. At the other end of the spectrum, 74% of white voters are proud of the history along with 65% of Hispanic voters.
Amidst these competing perceptions of our past, there is hope and common ground for the future.
In the competition between the noble founding ideals and shameful history of institutionalized racism, 82% of all voters believe the noble strand will dominate American politics in the future. It’s a view widely shared across partisan and ideological lines.
Our task today is to make that expectation a reality. Now is the time for the shameful strand of our history to die and the noble strand to flourish. To make this happen, we must be totally committed to shaping the culture by building a society worthy of our highest ideals. It is time to recognize that America’s War of Independence and the Civil Rights Movement were part of the same revolution, a revolution for liberty, equality, and self-governance.
Those ideals are the essentials we can build upon together while agreeing to disagree on the details of policy.