Who are we?

Founding Director, Pew Research Center
Technological progress, the development of democracy and the value of freedom of expression have all shaped humanity, Kohut says.
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TRANSCRIPT

Question: What forces have shaped humanity most?

Andrew Kohut: Well I think . . . I’m a little out of my depth here. This is not a polling question. What has shaped humanity, I think, is the march of technological progress, the development of democracy, and the value of . . . the value of . . . of the individual, and freedom of expression, and . . . and the development of . . . of a . . . of a mercantile system in trading and . . . But as much as anything technology, and economic, and material progress along with the development of ________ civil societies is what’s shaped humanity more than anything else. And you know licking the basics such as disease, and famine, and things like that.

Question: What forces have shaped America most?

Andrew Kohut: I think what shapes us is when – and I’ll refer to my polls now – when we did surveys about the millennium, we asked people what were the most important things that have influenced where . . . how the United States . . . what the United States achieved in the 20th century. And despite all the complaints about democracy and political polarization, people said “the system”. They said the . . . our . . . our . . . our way of governance, the way we have organized ourself more than anything else; more than our abundant . . . our abundant country, and more than the many things about us, it’s . . . it’s . . . it’s the kind of political system under which we live. There are other . . . lots of criticisms about the way we do it, but I think the basic . . . the basic American framework – political framework – of governance, the first democracy, the oldest democracy, is one of the most important things to understand about what shapes the United States. And of course the waves of immigration that have freshened . . . refreshed America. You can see it . . . you can see this wave of Hispanic immigration refreshing America, just as the European immigrations of the 20th century refreshed America. And we have such a tremendous capacity to take people in and make them American. The American system is so . . . is so strong that it is an . . . it changes, it reacts, but it also . . . it . . . it . . . it reshapes itself a little bit. But it’s so encompassing, and to a certain extent so welcoming. If you look at the way Americans feel . . . Despite the debate about immigration these days, if you look at it, about the way Americans feel about bringing people in and being an American. The view is if you come here and wanna be an American, and act like an American, you are an American. That is certainly not the view in large parts of the world. And in many . . . many western countries in the . . . in . . . in . . . in the public . . . that’s not the view of the public and many of our allies.

Recorded on: 9/14/07