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Bridging the American Class Divide – Jobs and “The American Dream”

Yes, the American 1% and the poor have common interests.

Suspend disbelief and consider a new proposition. It becomes apparent in the link between two new seminal “thought pieces” — one a newspaper editorial, the other a ground-breaking book with onsite interviews of dozens of people “left behind by their country and left out of the national conversation”.

In his New York Times op-ed,”Why Democrats Need Wall Street”, pollster Douglas Schoen is quite candid: “Democrats should keep ties with Wall Street for several reasons.” In addition to “the purely pragmatic — the ugly fact of politics: money” — other political-economic-social factors:

“The financial industry brings to market the world’s most innovative products and platforms that expand the economy and create jobs…demonizing Wall Street does nothing to bridge the widening gaps in our country…Democrats need to … develop a set of pro-growth , inclusive economic policies … must prioritize entrepreneurship, small-business growth and the expansion of job-training and retraining programs.”

That political-economic-social formula is right in the wheelhouse of many poor Americans, especially men with less than a college education. (In recent  years  almost a quarter of men with only high school diplomas have dropped out of the workforce as have a third of the men without high school diploma.)

So here’s Schoen’s class cross-over reality:

“American leadership in finance will make it possible for our country to invest as much as $1 trillion in infrastructure, extend health care access to every American at an affordable rate and lift the 76 million Americans who are barely surviving financially … into the middle class.” [Emphasis added]

But any Democratic — or Republican — leader seeking to impress, influence and help this core of the American poor must first get to know them — understand their values and priorities.

For that, “Broke and Patriotic, Why Poor Americans Love Their Country” Professor Francesco Duina’s new sociological stunner is must-reading. Because, as the book summary rightfully contends, this is “a sector of the American society that we are only beginning to recognize as a powerful force in shaping the country’s future.”

Counter-intuitive as it may be, Duina, with in-depth interviews of some 63 impoverished citizens in Birmingham, Alabama and Billings, Montana, reached this overarching conclusion: “A very high percentage of poor Americans are patriotic.”

[Caveats: Duina, a Professor of Sociology at Bates College, doesn’t claim that his work is a formal academic research project, but rather a first-round inquiry worthy of full sociological study. And the interviews were conducted in 2015 and 2016 before the November election.]

Duina:”We began with a puzzle. America’s least well-off are very patriotic… Why do poor Americans love their country so much?”

“The interviewees listed four basic reasons: First, everyone deserves what he or she gets; failure is one’s fault, not society’s … Second, the future looks brighter already … there is no reason to lose faith in the country; third, America is founded on the principle that we are all worth the same … fourth, America is all they know and it is impossible to entertain alternative possibilities.”

And importantly, there is this: “‘Freedom was a word that nearly all interviewees mentioned when explaining their love of the United States. It was the term that most often came to mind when thinking of the American flag, the military, or what makes America unique in the world . It was uttered with reverence and conviction — like something sacred and dear that one has learned to respect and appreciate since childhood … freedom is the most important thing anyone can have.”

Finally, and perhaps centrally, Duina harvests this from earlier research on American patriotism and exceptionalism :

“There is a related element to American patriotism: the American Dream – the belief, however realistic or not, in the possibility of upward mobility in society’s ranks.


“Research points to … a longstanding sense that America occupies a special place in God’s mind and plans — that it is God’s country.”

Jobs and the American Dream — quite a confluence.