In a recent New York Times article entitled “A Great Fight for Our Times,” the prospect of economic progress in a U.S. middle class facing economic stagnation is the main focus. The article discusses the decline of the net worth of middle class households compared to the prosperity of upper class households. Over and over again, the article displays how the American dream is dying as progress stalls among those who make up the backbone of the U.S. economy: the middle class. While the majority of middle class Americans are inundated with massive amounts of debt, stress, and fear, the upper class still seems to prosper.
The life expectancy for the wealthy grows more and more every year, while that of everyone else stagnates. The obesity rate has almost tripled since 1970, primarily amongst those in the middle and lower echelons of society. Somewhere around 8 million people in the U.S. have been incarcerated at least once in their life, many of whom are people of color and in the middle to lower class. Though college enrollment is steadily growing, many students from the middle to lower classes are dropping out without a four-year degree because the economic benefits just don’t seem to be adequate or because they simply can’t afford it. These statistical points aren’t just reflective of some recent hardships: they are showing steady trends that lead to a bleak future for many Americans.
So what does this have to do with the upcoming presidential election? People are still feeling the detrimental effects from the 2008 economic recession and congressional productivity is at an all time low. There is a prevalent sense of stagnation that has been circulating through the U.S. for decades now. Not much has been done to reverse it, and that doesn’t seem to have much effect on this election. However, this stagnation does relate to this election in many ways, and has had an impact on many of the elections that came before it.
Take 2008, for example. The U.S. was coming out of one of the most brutal recession of all time and the middle class was bearing the brunt of it. During that time, many middle-class households saw significant drops in their net worth, especially for those people whose wealth was tied up solely in their homeownership. For many, this drastic depression in wealth was just one among other worries, like paying university tuition and taxes, or under- or unemployment. These people had two primary options in the 2008 election: Barack Obama, a man with little political experience but an immense amount of drive and, most importantly, a focus on change in America, and John McCain, a conservative war hero with a propensity to dwell on the past. The people most affected by the recession were, obviously, more inclined to invest in the symbol of change and progress, Barack Obama. This same attitude is prevalent in today’s election.
The difference between Hillary and Trump is that while Hillary promises basic improvements , Trump’s campaign slogan literally implies progress, “Make America Great Again,” to fuel his supporters. We see a portion of white America spouting fervent support of Trump and his rants about economic prosperity, borderline ethnic cleansing, anti-political correctness, and promises of progress that would only truly benefit white America. His message of progress has reached more than just “Alt-Right” citizens. It has even garnered support from some minorities who he has so passionately preached against, including Latinos.
It’s worth mentioning that up until this recent utter implosion of his campaign, Trump has actually had a pretty reasonable shot of winning the general election. I think there’s something we can all learn from this, not just as citizens, but as humans as well: humans are creatures of innovation, and any stagnation is absolutely and utterly detrimental to our species and our society. We should not take this with a grain of salt. Instead of looking to figureheads in our society to spur national progress, we should better ourselves and each other in order to create a prosperous future– a future free of Trumps and false promises of progress.