A recent poll from The Wall Street Journal on the decline of various American values has generated a good deal of chatter in the last few days. As depicted in the chart below, the poll shows that patriotism, religion, family, and community have largely plummeted in popularity in recent years, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the only thing that hasn’t plummeted is money.
according to recent WSJ survey results, the following priorities that defined America's national character are waning in popularity…
❌community involvement pic.twitter.com/ASrGDPeoO6
— Andrea Mew (@andreajmew) March 27, 2023
While this poll was still floating around the ponderings in my head, I came across an old movie from 1953 entitled “It Happens Every Thursday.” Starring Loretta Young, the story tells of a young newspaper reporter from New York, Bob MacAvoy, whose wife Jane (Young) convinces him to move their family across the country to California and buy a small town newspaper, seemingly fulfilling the American dream.
But the newspaper business turns out to be anything but a dream. The office is ramshackle, the subscriptions paltry, and the old printer regularly dies every Thursday on press day.
Determined not to be licked, the couple set about building their business, haggling with local businessmen to buy newspaper ads and running contests to boost subscription rates. Although their valiant efforts often end in humorous unintended consequences, they slowly become an important part of the community, joining clubs, acting as Scout leaders, and becoming members of the PTA.
But one day, their efforts to help the community they’ve grown to love end up with much of the town mad at them, holding them responsible for thousands of dollars in damages. Discouraged, the couple decides to head back to the Big Apple. Before leaving, however, Jane gets up to give a gentle goodbye to some of the town’s most influential:
“You saw a stranger move into this town with his family. … And you saw a man joining clubs and civic groups, writing little editorials, reporting on the trivial little happenings of everyday people … doing nothing big at all. Nothing to shake the world. Well, trivial happenings are the world! They are a people. And if you believe in the fundamental worth and goodness of the people right around you, then you believe in the fundamental goodness of America and the world.”
Now, one could look at these words and delve into a debate about whether human nature is naturally good or evil. But I’m going to leave that aside for now.
Instead, I’m going to look at the heart of these words and recognize that Jane was really just speaking about the beauty of the little things, of community, of Americans attending church, raising their children, and doing honest hard work alongside neighbors who are doing the same. Such work may not bring much money, but it is a good work because it is done under the smile of a free country.
And that seems to be what Americans today have forgotten, judging from the recent WSJ poll. They’ve abandoned the so-called trivial things, going instead for the big prize of material wealth. Yet in doing so, they may discover that the trivial things were what were really valuable.
Author Wendell Berry once wrote that the alignment of wealth and political power is one of the great enemies of freedom. We see this alignment in the political leaders of today, many of whom become wealthy elites once they get to Washington. But I believe we can also see this in our own material wealth that we somehow now believe is so much more important than the “trivial” traditional American values, for as Berry writes, such alignment destroys “the natural wealth of localities and the local economies of household, neighborhood, and community—and so destroys democracy.”
If we are ever to reclaim our nation, then we must first reclaim and honor its core values of God, family, and country—those “trivial” things, which have the most value of all.
Image credit: Pixabay