AP®︎/College US Government and Politics
Course: AP®︎/College US Government and Politics > Unit 4Lesson 1: American attitudes about government and politics
American attitudes about government and politics
Explore how core beliefs of U.S. citizens impact their views on government roles. Key beliefs include self-reliance, individualism, free enterprise, equality of opportunity, and rule of law. These beliefs shape opinions on limited or active government involvement, as illustrated by quotes from notable Americans.
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- What core belief would The American Dream fall under? Would it be its own core belief?(1 vote)
- The American dream is the belief that anyone, regardless of where they were born or what class they were born into, can attain their own version of success in a society in which upward mobility is possible for everyone.(1 vote)
- What we're going to do in this video is think about how the core beliefs of U.S. citizens impacts their views on the role of government. And what I'm gonna do is talk about a few core beliefs that are often associated with the United States, but taken with a grain of salt. It's obviously a very large and a very diverse country where people have many, many, many beliefs. Now one thing that often gets associated with the United States is this idea of self-reliance. Self-reliance. Or sometimes would be called individualism, or these are related ideas, individualism. And this is the idea that, hey look, an individual, if people don't get in their way, can take care of themselves, that the goals of that individual should sometimes or often trump those of the collective, or say the government. And so you can imagine, someone who has a strong core belief in self-reliance or individualism, they would want a limited government. They would say hey government, just get out of my way and I can take care of myself. Now, a related idea to that, but this would be going into the corporate realm or the entrepreneurial realm, is the idea of free enterprise. Free enterprise. And this is the idea that, hey, we can generate wealth, we can create things, we can innovate, once again, if enterprise, if entrepreneurial activity, is left to its own devices. Now, once again, this core belief in free enterprise would probably favor a limited government. Hey government, just get outta my way. The more that you get involved, that just slows things down. That just is a wet blanket on the creativity and on the wealth creation that we could do, left to our own devices. Now, another idea is that of equality of opportunity, often associated with the United Sates, equality of opportunity. And this goes to the roots of the United States where we don't have a formal nobility, obviously, we don't have things like kings. That the country started off, obviously there's some major exceptions around things like slavery, but the country took pride in ideas of equality of oppurtunity. And to some degree, they feed into these first two bullet points, that if there truly is equality of oppurtunity, it kind of backs up the idea that, hey, let's just let people take care of themselves. Now on the other hand, someone who really cares about equality of opportunity might say, well, hold on a second, not everyone is born into the same circumstance. And because of that, if you truly care about equality of oppurtunity, there might be a role for the government to play in helping to level that playing field a bit. So these folks might not want as limited of a government as some of the folks who are strongly in the camp of self-reliance or individualism. Now the fourth core belief I'll talk about and that is the rule of law. Rule of law. Now, any country, in order to function, needs a rule of law. But one thing that the United States takes pride in itself, and I think the United States citizens take pride in itself, is that, hey look, if there's going to be a contract between individuals, people will uphold that contract, that because of a solid rule of law, it's less likely that people will get away with crimes. And there are examples that you could look around the world where people might have less faith in the rule of law. Well, (mumbles) people are getting away with stuff or if I get into an agreement with someone, there's no way that I can really enforce that agreement. And so the rule of law, this would argue for some role of government, but it depends how focused or how limited of a rule of law people's core beliefs are. And to make these core beliefs and their impact on government a little bit more tangible, I have some quotes from some notable Americans. Now several of these are Presidents, but their views are really indicative of broader views in the American population. So, this first one comes from President Ronald Reagan and he said, Government's first duty is to protect the people, not run their lives. So which core beliefs do you think Ronald Reagan is representing here? Well, when I look at this, it seems like he doesn't want the government to really mess with people's lives, he's really talking about self-reliance, individualism, free enterprise. And he is making some reference, that look, there is a duty to protect the people. So he's saying you do need the government to enforce the rule of law, but he seems to favor a limited government and he, indeed, did favor a limited government that does not get in the way of, say, free enterprise or people's ability to be self-reliant. Now, some would argue on the other end of the spectrum, here is a quote from Franklin Roosevelt, in which he said, Not only our future economic soundness but the very soundness of our democratic institutions depends on the determination of our government to give employment to idle men. So, FDR here, is talking about a very active government, not the type of limited government that Ronald Reagan seems to allude to. Here, he's saying that it's the job of the government, and remember the context here is FDR was President during the Great Depression and the beginning of World War II, and during the Great Depression you had massive unemployment, and he's saying look, not only the future of our economic soundness but the very soundness of our democratic institutions depends on the determination of the government to give employment to these men. Now, his argument might have been look, if we don't give employment, then you could have a revolution on your hands, then people are gonna lose faith in this idea of the United States, they're gonna lose faith in the government. Now, on the other hand, some people might say the whole reason why we were in that mess is that the government was intervening too much and the more that the government intervenes, it actually might not allow free enterprise to naturally solve the economic situation that we were in at the time. But, once again, Franklin Roosevelt seemed to be a little bit less on self-reliance cause he said, look, these people aren't gonna find jobs on their own, the government needs to get them jobs. Now here's another viewpoint. This is from President Barack Obama. And here, President Obama says, The internet didn't get invented in its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet. The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. So this is an interesting argument. When he's saying this, he's clearly making reference to these ideas of individualism and free enterprise that are strong core beliefs in the United States. This individualism is, we succeed because of our individual initiative and free enterprise. These companies that are making money off the Internet, but his point is that these things didn't happen on their own, that, at least in this case, the Internet was started as a government project. You had DARPANET and ARPANET, which eventually evolved into the Internet so that free enterprise could take over and, frankly, allow you to watch this video. He's saying that the government actually does have a role here and because of that role that the government has played, it has actually allowed things like self-reliance, individualism, and free enterprise to flourish even more. And last but not least, I'll give you a quote from famous conservative economist, Milton Friedman. He used to be a professor at the University of Chicago and he said, Government has three primary functions. It should provide for military defense of the nation. It should enforce contracts between individuals. It should protect citizens from crimes against themselves or their property. And so Milton Friedman, here, is clearly advocating for a limited government. In terms of his core beliefs, clearly from this statement, he says, look, a rule of law is necessary. You have to have your contracts between citizens, you need to protect citizens from crimes against themselves or their property. If you read more Milton Friedman quotes and I encourage you to, regardless of where you are on the philosophical spectrum, they're all quite interesting. He has a strong underlying core belief in self-reliance, individualism, and free enterprise. But I'll leave you there. Think about it on your own. How does the core belief of a United States citizen, including yourself, how does that impact your view of the role of government?