Doesn’t look like the White House…
Over the past few years of economic torpor and social despair there’s been a lot of discussion about the death of the American dream. This shouldn’t be surprising. In a time when people feel they can’t keep up or are falling behind, it’s hard to have faith in the idea that everyone can achieve a base level of security and provide for their kids to do better than they did. That was always the deal for working-class Americans, immigrants and middle-class alike.
Generally, people agree that the lack of social and economic mobility we see today — necessities for the achievement of the American dream — is a result of the dramatic income inequality that’s grown dramatically over the last couple of decades. There’s even a name for this phenomenon called the Great Gatsby Curve, which simply shows that the more income inequality there is, the less social mobility there is. As Tim Noah of the New Republic explained:
Economists have long suspected that you can’t really experience ever-growing income inequality without experiencing a decline in Horatio Alger-style upward mobility because (to use a frequently-employed metaphor) it’s harder to climb a ladder when the rungs are farther apart. [Economist Alan] Krueger calculates based on the Gatsby curve (admittedly, somewhat speculatively) that “the persistence in the advantages and disadvantages of income passed from parents to the children” will “rise by about a quarter for the next generation as a result of the rise in inequality that the U.S. has seen in the last 25 years
It’s doubtful that more than a handful of average Americans have heard of the Great Gatsby Curve but they do know that they aren’t getting ahead at the same pace as their parents did. Earlier generations started out with much less (there was less to have!), but the level of advancement over the course of a lifetime for average working people, whether factory workers or teachers or small business owners, was measurable and real. People who never thought of going to college had all their children graduate from university. Couples whose parents always lived in small urban dwellings bought big houses in the suburbs and retired from their jobs knowing they could live comfortably in their old age. Each generation did a bit better than the last, gaining more opportunity and living with more financial security. It wasn’t sexy but it was solid.
According to polling, including this latest one by the Public Religion Research Institute, the bottom has fallen out of the American dream for a whole lot of people. Only 42 percent of Americans still believe in it today and it’s not getting better:
Oddly, that same poll shows that far more Republicans than Democrats believe the American dream is still operative, 55 percent to 32 percent. If you wonder why that is, perhaps it’s because many Republicans have a completely different definition of the American dream. They don’t see it as a middle-class goal at all, much of it made possible by the promise of a decent education and secure retirement, guaranteed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government. No, they believe that the American dream is getting filthy rich. It’s not much different than winning the lottery or getting a slot on the Real Housewives of Galt’s Gulch.
Here’s a good example of how Republicans explain it to the rubes, in a piece called “In Defense of the Wealthy and the American Dream”:
The United States has 422 billionaires, nearly four times that of 2nd place China. We have a 15.3 trillion dollar economy. We have a standard of living that is the envy of the world. Why?
We have the American Dream and other countries don’t. This American Dream exists because we are free to pursue unlimited prosperity. What fuels the desire to pursue the American Dream is the right to keep the wealth you produce. Property rights are fundamental to the existence of the American Dream and to the continued success of our nation. It was intentional. Our founding fathers built a nation around individual liberty and individual property rights. Without these rights, there would be no 422 billionaires, no 15.3 trillion dollar economy, no high standard of living. These rights are the very foundation of America. Liberty and the right to keep your property (wealth) have, for generations, separated America from the rest of the world. It is the reason America has been considered by so many around the world as “the land of opportunity”.
He calls these 422 billionaires the “American Dream Achievers.” And if you too want to be an American Dream Achiever you must agree not to tax them or regulate their businesses or in any other way try to reduce the wealth inequality we know is causing virtually everyone else to stagnate economically. But have no fear, you can totally do it! Why, if you just work hard you can be the 423rd billionaire — out of 313 million Americans!
A few months ago David Leonhardt of the New York Times published a story that showed exactly where the real American dream — enough opportunity and security to live a decent life and make it possible for your kids to succeed — is in the most trouble. And ironically, it turns out that one specific group of people is being scammed by this absurd con game more than any other: Southern Republicans.
The results of this week’s poll on Americans’ pessimism about the American dream doesn’t break the data out by region. It does break it out by race and class, however, and it’s perhaps unsurprising that the most pessimistic, by a long shot, are the white working class and African-Americans. It’s fair to guess that an awful lot of those working-class whites and African-Americans hail from that red area on the map where their futures and their children’s futures really are grim.
And that’s largely thanks to the policies put in place by GOP politicians who are intent upon delivering for those rare “American Dream Achievers” — and nobody else. You can’t blame the African-Americans. They know the score and don’t vote for these dream killers. The Southern white working class is another story. They’re participating in their own demise.
Over the last couple of years, some polls have been done that indicate that people have lost “confidence” in President Obama. Though I’ve never quite understood why.
What has (or hasn’t) the president done that would make the American people lose confidence in his ability to lead?
Has our economy not bounced back, with constant job growth, for over five of his first six years in office? – YES
Have we not seen the strongest year of job growth (2014) since Clinton was president? – YES
And let’s not forget that he became president right in the middle of the worst economic crash since the Great Depression.
But even going beyond just the economy, have we not successfully avoided starting any new wars?
Did he not get Syria to turn over their chemical weapons without firing a single shot?
Did we not locate, and kill, Osama bin Ladin?
Has our uninsured rate not dropped significantly thanks to the Affordable Care Act?
Did Republicans not look like absolute fools at the end of the 2013 government shutdown?
I get it if he “hasn’t done everything you had hoped he would do.” Though I’m not exactly sure what it is they wanted him to do. Don’t forget that Obama has faced the most obstructive Congress of possibly any other president in United States history. So he’s been very limited as to what he actually can get done. And anytime he tries to get something done on his own, Republicans go on every right-wing media outlet they can find to perpetuate the idea that whatever he’s doing is unconstitutional and illegal!
If you want to attack the website issues last October, that’s fair. The “Obamacare” website rollout was an absolute disaster, but every time some issue comes up (such as Syria last year and ISIS now), people rush to whatever camera they can find (especially Republicans), doubting everything he does. And practically every single time, he makes them look like absolute fools.
Last year when Republicans were doing everything they could to bash Obama on Syria, he called their bluff. They didn’t even know how to respond – but he knew exactly what he was doing. Not only did the president publicly throw his support behind military action in Syria, but he left the decision entirely up to Congress. He did that knowing that Republicans would screw around long enough, not get anything done, and he would be able to achieve his ultimate goal of getting Syria to disarm their chemical weapons stockpiles without firing a single shot.
Meanwhile, Republicans spent that entire time trying to attack the president – for doing exactly what they were telling him to do all along. Then the government shutdown came and he won again. Republicans looked like fools trying to devour one another as polls showed an overwhelming number of Americans were opposed the shutdown and were blaming the GOP for it. All the while President Obama sat back, knowing eventually Republicans would be forced to cave – because even they knew the shutdown made absolutely no sense. And that’s exactly what happened. While I know President Obama has been far from perfect, I’m just not sure exactly what he’s done that makes people “lose confidence” in him. From what I’ve seen, he’s calculated and even-keeled. Not only that, considering the Congress he’s been given, he seems to have done just about all that he can.
Americans complained when we had trigger happy President George W. Bush rushing off to get us mixed up in complex situations without any kind of plan; now they seem unhappy because Obama seems to actually think out what he wants to do before acting. And now that ISIS is a growing threat, once again many Americans (especially Republicans) can’t wait to criticize everything the president says and does. Though that’s nothing new. But I’ve noticed I don’t see many of them offering up any feasible plan of their own. And, no, unilaterally sending troops into Syria isn’t a “plan.” That’s a quagmire that would make the war in Iraq seem like nothing. From what I’m seeing, he’s trying to get a coalition of leading European nations, as well as nations from within the region, all on the same page to decide together what to do about ISIS not only in Iraq but in Syria as well. Which is the intelligent thing to do. But like always, Republicans will do everything they can to attack and criticize everything President Obama is doing to deal with ISIS.
In the end, when all is said and done, he’ll once again make them look like absolute fools.