Trump is the American Dream. And no this isn’t a coy metaphor or piece of wordplay that only tangentially hits the point. Trump won this past election because he represents this idyllic of the all-powerful and endlessly wealthy man, and people bought it, hoping for a piece of it themselves. But the reason I can prove Trump is the American Dream is the very reason that makes it dangerous. Our American Dream, as we have come to define it, is rooted in nostalgia and retrospect.
We look to the ‘good old times,’ ‘how things once were,’ ‘American greats Rockefeller and Carnegie.’ Our perspective is dangerously focused on recreating a past version of America that doesn’t exist anymore. And if you listen to Trump’s xenophobic remarks, it harkens back to racist roots more than a hundred years old – the same anti-immigrant rhetoric that rippled at the turn of the 20th century. Yet outside of the politically correct liberal bastion, this old-school racism appeals to Trumps supporters. Not because his supporters are bigots (necessarily), but because that is how things once were. And in this “Great American History” that we have created in our idealized view of the American Dream, how bad could it be to go back?
Very bad. Bad on an economic level, and worse on a social.
The industrial America that we knew after World War II has vanished, and this idea of returning to a great American economy in the same industrial way as before is economically impossible. The middle class is shrinking by the year. The financial mobility that we covet from the Rock n Roll era is now an afterimage our nation’s eye. In truth we have less economic mobility now than the developing nation of Rwanda. And so the Lower class and Upper class continue to grow, and the chasm of immobility continues to drive itself between the tax brackets.
In the post war economy, the US controlled more than 50% of all of the worlds industry – Europe was in shambles and East Asia hadn’t modernized in the way we know it today. We were a powerhouse of jobs and wealth. The path of the middle American was paved with an American made car and a comfortable living. Today we control single digit percentages of industry today. The industrial jobs we once produced have been replaced by robots and tech companies. And in truth we are a nation in crisis, and the threatened blue collar middle class voted for Trump as a hail mary to get back to the American Dream of yesteryear. The sad truth of the matter is that according to two economists from Harvard, we will not be able to replicate the post-war industry today. Yet our eyes are set backwards.
Perhaps the more dangerous consequence of this backwards looking approach is the revival of old racism and sexism. We too quickly forgot that ‘colored’ water fountains existed less than 60 years ago, the same “golden” years we look back to for the American Dream. Trump’s ascendance to the presidency has revived a brand of old racism with a new, and deleterious wave of nostalgia.
As I see it, the American Dream as we now it is dead. But we keeping looking back to before in this idealization of what was. And like sand escaping from a hand, the more your clench the faster the grains slip out. And that’s what I find so dangerous. As we nationally realize the death of the American Dream, we are going to grasp wildly, trying to protect ourselves in a fight or flight way to preserve our way of life. And we’re seeing it already with the division we have driven between ourselves in the course of this election. I say the American Dream is what drives this racism and what drives the shrinking middle class.
We need to wake up, and begin looking towards the future like post-war Germany and post-war Japan, abandoning this old mentality that only plagues us as we struggle like a house collapsing in on itself.