à propos, ideally obscure quote that will let anyone who recognizes it feel included and superior.
Standard introduction. Thesis. Establishment of moral & intellectual highground
Background on social/religious/political factors about topic in America
Data: poll results, citations, etc about the topic at hand, showing it is worthy of discussion
Personal anecdotes, humorous and/or poignant quotes from a readership-recognizable name
Look back at historical glory days (The Founders, Ancient Greece or Rome. Sometimes Renaissance Europe), and the lessons to be learned from our predecessors (they had it right already). Wax philosophic about the Fall From Grace.
Argument that the moral/religious right is in some way responsible for this malady, often mention of the lack of Visionary Intellect in the nation’s capital, including mention European mis-comprehension of the state of our nation
Summarize, again with anecdote and/or quote from recognizable figure (no one sums it up like X…, or I was in exotic locale Y when…).
End, on a point demanding introspection for the reader, humbled at the weight of one’s own argument.
(My apologies to Mr. Lewis Lapham, whose writings I do quite enjoy. But really. I think this accounts for at least the last 5 months of his essays in Harpers)