So, I’ve been thinking off and on about the Occupy Wall Street protests. Now, I’m pretty darn liberal on most things, so the fact that I’m only half paying attention is not a good sign.
But I will say this. Americans are fond of saying that there’s no class system here. And that’s complete bullshit.
America is different — not because there is no class — but because it happens to be quite possible to transcend class. It exists all right, but it doesn’t have to define you here. It’s a lot harder to rise than it is to fall, but both are possible. Whatever their downsides, capitalism and a decent public education system are what make this possible.
So how do we explain the current protest — as well as other protests we’ve seen off and on the past few years?
To my mind, we’re seeing at least a partial breakdown of the grand bargain of American politics of the last 40 years. That bargain has been between the wealthy, largely Republican, group and the working-class, mostly white, group. And the deal has been, you go with us on economics, we’ll go with you on social issues, and we’ll all go home happy. The unspoken side of this is: Siding with the rich folks economically nods and winks at the idea that you, too, can be rich one day, you know, you hold your tongue right and all.
And when I see what’s happening on Wall Street, I think that a lot of people don’t like the deal anymore. They don’t see the pathway to upward mobility. They’re working harder than ever and they have less to show for it. And they see some wealthy Wall Street types enjoying fat returns while the rest of the country pays for them.
I don’t think that’s an entirely accurate assessment of the current economic situation, but I can absolutely, 100% see how you’d view things that way.