Former Secretary of State John Kerry asserted “human values are universal values” on Wednesday. He spoke of the need for the United States to engage in the world rather than retreat, to commit to long-term plans, and to exhibit good governance.
He speaks from a record that includes diplomatic breakthroughs with Cuba and Iran, and a priority on our threatened oceans. And he appeared to speak to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who shocked an auditorium of State Department employees earlier that day by saying the United States should sometimes “separate values such as freedom, human dignity, and ‘the way people are treated’ from foreign policy.” Perhaps this was a poor attempted justification to the major cuts to the Department of State and international institutions?
Regardless, we must fight to define, preserve and advance core underlying American values.
The huge disconnect between what’s been proposed by the administration – whether in tax reform, health care, the environment and climate – and core values that represent caring for our population, with a commitment to their rights and dignity. This must be highlighted deftly.
Values can’t just be dismissed. They ground all organizations. The consulting firm McKinsey’s famous 7S model places “shared values” at the heart of an organization: its structure, strategy, system, style, skills, and staff all reflect them.
This administration recognizes that few of its actions pass the “values test.” Thus they’ve created a flurry of activity, bouncing like toddler with ADD from topic to topic, aiming to keep the public from examining their policy initiatives.
That’s why Donald Trump has his “forbidden love” – single-payer health care – grounded in, as he said, universality, a higher quality of life, taking care of others, and affordability. (A friends-first approach of getting better acquainted and advancing its worthy cause would make sense.)
Recent White House statements have changed tone. They’ve spoken against discrimination and for a resolution to the Israeli-Palestine crisis. But it is far too early to see if this represents a commitment to action, even in these limited areas.
Yet far tougher work remains. We who value Americans’ security, health, environment, and education must identify the core values behind a broad array of harsh initiatives.
Values work has already been done through marches – like the broad-based women’s, science, and climate marches – and from those organizing on the ground and on the web.
But the challenge will be to make them explicit in each new proposal, and in our opposition.
For example: who benefits from the tax cuts in Trumpcare 2.0? Does someone with a $20 million dollar income really need $760,000 tax cut?
This is at a time when wealth inequality has skyrocketed beyond Americans’ imagination and approval, (which gave critical momentum to Sanders’ candidacy.) This is at a time when just eight men own as much as the bottom 3.5 billion in the world, up from a still unjustifiable 400-something a few years ago.
When will it and should it stop? Why is not expert Thomas Piketty’s call for a wealth tax not only not being heeded, but reversed? Why are we cutting taxes on income and capital gains, after study and reality has shown its failure.
As we champion patriotism and charity, why won’t we acknowledge that there is such a thing as enough wealth and income? We must be able to agree on a point beyond which taxes must be rapidly progressive such that our children won’t be poor, and our environment will sustain us and the next seven generations.
The question of who benefits and who pays must be central in every policy proposal – from infrastructure to tax reform to military spending.
The disconnect with our values is why the House voted on Trumpcare 2.0 before the Congressional Budget Office was done scoring it. Because truths it will tell will be that millions of Americans will be left without health insurance. For millions with preexisting conditions (which represents far more than claimed), it may be unaffordable. Women may pay more. Thousands will show up to tell representatives the value of their health.
The election of 2016 was one that engaged so many people of all generations because it was one that spoke to values. This was most notable through the broadly supported candidacy of Bernie Sanders, but also fleeting through statements by Trump. As we move forward, with Republican rule in Congress and the White House, we are seeing a power grab that represents the antithesis of America’s promise. We must make it clear that the further concentration of wealth comes at a price of the loss of dignity and health for Americans and the world. And that’s not what we’re about. Progress towards the individual security of Americans and towards coordinated global achievement must continue.