Shared American values

Where do shared American values come from?

The Declaration of Independence begins by announcing that “all men [people] are created equal.” The Preamble to the Constitution states that it was written “in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare…” The Pledge of Allegiance calls us “one nation …with liberty and justice for all.” The value of democracy is also widespread in our founding documents, but its best brief description is Lincoln’s phrase “government by the people, of the people and for the people.” All of these foundational documents support the idea that we must care for one another.

What values describe our American identity?

Liberty, equality, justice, and democracy. These are not the only values Americans care about. However, they are the most widely shared and best define our identity.

Have we always acted in accordance with shared American values?

Not always, as history clearly shows us. These documents were written as aspirations for our nation. The culture in which they were written saw many things differently from the way we do today. Slavery was acceptable. Grossly unequal relationships between men and women were viewed as normal. In the three centuries that the United States has existed, we have acknowledged these grave misjudgments, deepened our understanding of these values, and made progress in fulfilling these national aspirations. But we still have further to go.

Do we all understand the words of our shared American values in the same way?

No. We have different ideas about what dimensions of freedom are the most important. Different views of when one person’s freedom becomes someone else’s injustice. Different definitions of equality and government responsibility. Different thoughts on the appropriate role of money in our system. What makes them shared values is the need for these different definitions to be front and center in our discussions of where we want our country to go. How do we, as a people, interpret our shared American values, and how can we use them to guide policies for our nation?

How are shared American values relevant to health care?

We believe that an essential element of making health care fair is a new national commitment to the principle of universality in health care. To implement this principle effectively, we, as a nation and through our elected political leaders, will have to address our shared American values of liberty, equality, justice (especially economic justice), and democracy. Updated 6/1/2018