Obama is asking the wrong question about American values

Individual freedom is widely supported, yes, but scratch its surface and you’ll find the right’s focus on negative rights and liberties and the left’s attention to their positive variants are increasingly distant. (And it’s not just one side moving from center — even the ACLU ain’t what it once was.) Equality of opportunity is increasingly disfavored on the left (the new preference, as Vice President-elect Kamala Harris has explained, is equity), while too much of the right barely bothers with equality before the law, backing special legal protections for police and disregarding rule of law when it serves their aims.

Americans might be broadly willing to say we support liberty and justice for all, government of the people, by the people, for the people — all that sort of thing. But the ground on which we truly converge is shrinking, surrounded by a rising sea of difference. This presidential election, so closely decided and probably producing another divided government, reiterates that reality. There is no indisputable majority for one variant of our national ideals or another. Our consensus is thin. We may “share a fundamental commitment to the same core American values,” but we also have fundamental commitments to various values outside that dwindled core.

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