Forget baseless fantasies about a moral Golden Age

by Mike Heral

It’s sad when a once-proud institution is reduced by bad management into a punch line. Such is the fate of U-T San Diego since its purchase by Doug Manchester. On March 3, the newspaper featured the kind of ridiculous editorial we’ve come to expect. What makes it galling is this one was penned by its leadership, North County editorial editor Thomas Arnold. He drew a spurious conclusion that the U.S. is losing its morality from a series of unrelated instances. Arnold blamed this perceived lapse in national ethics to an equally perceived decline in religious appreciation.

He wasn’t finished pointing fingers. Next, he lined up progressives in his word processor’s sight and pulled the trigger on them, too. Arnold had himself a good day shooting the usual liberal suspects. I can imagine him high-fiving fellow neocons in whatever is left of the U-T’s newsroom, hoping his diatribe somehow makes its way to the desk of Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity.

But let’s pretend Arnold’s argument is valid for a second. Let’s agree with his hypothesis that U.S. morals are declining. In the process, we will have to forget the U.S. was conceived by violence, enslaved minorities, decimated Native Americans, immortalized outlaws and always celebrated the individual before the collective. The real U.S. has always been a dark, dirty place disconnected from Emma Lazarus’ famous poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. But forget about that, put on rose-colored glasses instead. Let’s buy into Arnold’s elementary school view that chivalry was once commonplace on America’s not-so-mean streets of days gone by.

The first thing to ask: Does religion alone instill the morals necessary to make grown men throw their coats over piles of mud? Arnold merely assumes the perpetrators of the incidents he describes are not religious, which he wouldn’t know unless he’s followed them or hired someone to do it for him. It’s quite possible they were regular church attendees. After all, I’ve known quite a few pious types who wore their sanctimony as a facade.

For 10 years, I went to a Midwestern church. I was required to attend every time there was a service and as a result, I got to know the regulars well. What I saw sickened me. There were some good people, but the majority fought hard about prideful matters such as who tithed the most or prayed the longest. In my teen group, we made out on church buses and committed as many sins as possible. Even though we believed ourselves religious, our morals were no different than the morals Arnold decries in his editorial.

Oh, and did I mention that all happened more than 25 years ago? No, morality isn’t just suddenly declining. It’s always been dubious. White Americans like to believe the 1950s represented America’s Golden Age. But just ask African and Native Americans what they thought about those years. To them, it was a time when segregation and denial of status ruled moral standards.

If religion isn’t the answer, then there’s only one way the U.S. can practice what it morally preaches: strengthen the family. I mean all families, regardless of race or sexual orientation. Families are important because morals are absorbed early in a child’s life. Sadly, it’s someone other than parents teaching it to them today, leaving the job to overcrowded schools and sometimes hostile classmates to teach whatever morality rules the blackboard jungle.

Don’t get me wrong—religious institutions and schools are important for a child’s ethical development. However, they just can’t be the primary sources of knowledge. We’ve made them that way thanks to our over-scheduled lives. It’s little wonder why people such as Arnold stand dismayed.

Children are often on their own because both parents spend their days either working or looking for work. It’s always hard to earn a decent living and since the Great Recession it’s become even harder to stay above the poverty line. This is why children are in non-parental care for the majority of the day. Only by providing valuable jobs and increasing the living wage can we begin to restore the balance between home and work life. The balance could allow parents more time for their children, resulting in those children hopefully learning solid ethical behaviors from examples set by their parents.

A newspaper with U-T San Diego’s regional influence should do great things for its readers. It should provide meaningful editorial content designed to pressure politicians into doing the right thing for the community. San Diego isn’t getting that from its largest newspaper. It’s a shame the paper is wasting its power publishing poorly thought-out conservative philosophy.

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