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A new social compact for America

john a. powell, director, Othering & Belonging Institute | February 7, 2017

Our society is undergoing a profound shift. In the aftermath of the 2016 election, many of our foundational values and assumptions about our democracy are being called into question. Our core institutions and norms are under attack and in need of defending and reclaiming.

There are certain things that most people consider not up for grabs in our society: Democracy. Human dignity. Separation of powers. Equality. Dialogue. These are core values that also represent our best aspirations. Many rest on a profound moral footing with ties to religions and spiritual practices. Movement forward has not always been straight and there has been disagreement about the reach and boundaries of our pluralism, yet there has been a general understanding that America was gradually moving towards a more inclusive society and future.

For many of us, that belief has now been ruptured.

There is currently in the White House a person who shows little or no regard for our Constitution, who disrespects the law, and who openly disregards democratic norms; a person who seems to not only have little concern for most people outside of the U.S., but a great many of the people inside; a person who has embraced and surrounded himself with explicit racists; a person who is hostile to facts; a person who rarely adheres to rules unless they fit within his very narrow self-interests; a person whose choices do not appear to be tethered to any sort of moral system.

We must actively resist the hate, racism, misogyny, homophobia and xenophobia from this political administration and those who would support it, and must refuse all attempts to institutionalize these forces into practice and policy.

But resistance alone is not enough. We also need to state and claim what aligns us and brings us together. There are certain times in which we are called upon to rethink, reclaim and boldly articulate what we stand for and to act, and this is one of those times today. I believe we are in need of articulating a new social compact for our country that builds on our past and embraces our future — an inclusive social compact that gives us a foundation for a new birth of freedom for all, and that helps us understand who we are and who we must become. This compact should reflect our grounding in a morality that recognizes the equal human value of all people. This compact should give us clear moral and practical directions.

With the support of many others, we have created a compact that lays out a set of values and practices that we believe represent some of these most fundamental tenets of society (see Even as we recognize we have many different strategies for achieving our goals, we are united by core values that guide our actions.

This pact is not partisan, because these values are not about left/right or Republican/Democratic, or even solely about America. This pact anchors us in an ethics of care not just limited to any one group or country, but a care for all, without reducing us all to the same. Given our differences and similarities, we are still part of one global society.

There is a clear choice now to either fully live into our relationships with each other across the planet, and with the planet, or to slip into a narrow tribal nationalism. We choose the former.

This is not a question of whether we want to be connected. We already are connected. Whether I state it or not, I am connected to all other people on this planet. Whether I consciously live it or not, I am related to the earth. Whether I structurally live it or not, I am related to all other living beings.

But in this time of assault on even truth itself, giving public expression to that which we hold unshakable empowers us and gives us a shared language. Claiming and committing to our interconnectedness must become fundamental to our allegiance to our society. Pushing towards an integrated, pluralist world where human fairness and caring are the norm is necessary.

In the last two weeks alone we have experienced enormous demands on our attention that have called for us to respond to many urgent affronts to our liberty. And in the coming months we will need to continue to be vigilant and respond. But what we cannot do is cede any of the space that holds our core values. And we must not only hold onto our values, we must actively live them.

With conviction, tenacity, humility, joy, and love, we must claim a new social compact to live by — for our society, our democracy, our future generations and for our life-giving planet itself.

Comments to “A new social compact for America

  1. 1. What are “our” foundational values? I don;t remember me or my group being included in this discussion wherein we apparently reached a consensus. To me, it seems as if “our” foundational values are meant to benefit certain groups and hobble other groups.

    2. Why does the result of a valid democratic election signal a “profound shift”? As far as I know, democratic results are always in line with the core value of democracy: the ability of the people to choose their leader and values.

    3. What assumptions could you possibly have in regard to democracy other than the assurance of free and fair elections? Where are these other parameters and guarantees listed, precisely? Follow up question: how is your framing not partisan propaganda?

    4. Since when does the valid election of a president constitute an attack on “our core institutions”? What are these institutions, and why do you, as a single voter in a large nation, feel ownership of these institutions above Trump supporters?

    5. Why do you feel that there is a valid path to “defending and reclaiming” what you seem to feel that you have lost due to an election, outside of an election? How is such a perspective democratic?

    6. Why are you a professor when you feel that it preserves your academic and intellectual integrity to claim that Trump shows little regard for our constitution, disrespects the law, and disregards democratic norms? Why do you think that you can get away with putting your name on such claims, as a professor, without backing them up with evidence or reasoned argument?

    7. To what degree do you believe that Barack Obama showed concern for all people inside the USA, and what is your perception of the effect that this relative degree of concern had on the election of Donald Trump?

    8. To what degree does the Left harbor racism, aside from any invalid rationalizations that poorly serve to intellectually nullify such racism?

    9. To what degree do you believe the Left propagates false facts and false narratives? For how long and to what historical effect? With what microphones? To what degree do you believe that your perception of Trump’s “false facts” are often actually refutations of the media’s false facts, which you uncritically hold to be true?

    10. To what degree did you perceive Trump’s departure from the rules of decorum to be merely a refusal to lose to a hostile press who was acting well out of bounds of their journalistic ethics? (Honestly, playing a dirty game and then crying when your opponent beats you, regardless, by changing his game is the most spineless ethic that I’ve ever encountered).

    11. To what degree do you perceive that calling people names will no longer manipulate them to voting against their interests and voting in the interests of competing hostile groups?

    12. To what degree do you perceive that “resistance” against a democratically elected president is plainly undemocratic? To what degree do you perceive that you are encouraging violence on a campus where people were recently beaten with bricks and poles by the people whom you are encouraging?

    13. To what degree do you perceive this statement of yours as being Marxist / communist in tone, and otherwise impractically utopian?: “This pact anchors us in an ethics of care not just limited to any one group or country, but a care for all, without reducing us all to the same”.

    14. To what degree do you think that humans can “care for all” without reducing all groups to the lowest common denominator?

    15. To what degree do you think that tribes can live next to one another, over time, without war or oppression? What historical examples inform your opinion?

    16. To what degree to do rate this as hippy nonsense that is meaningless in a practical sense, other than to persuade the impressionable toward dangerous and misleading politics with emotion?: “This is not a question of whether we want to be connected. We already are connected. Whether I state it or not, I am connected to all other people on this planet. Whether I consciously live it or not, I am related to the earth. Whether I structurally live it or not, I am related to all other living beings”.

    17. Does the Left hold to the truth? If so, then why are they afraid of free speech across multiple issues?

    18. How is the result of a democratic election an affront to liberty?


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