What our survey found about the American dream came as a surprise to me. When Americans were asked what makes the American dream a reality, they did not select as essential factors becoming wealthy, owning a home or having a successful career. Instead, 85 percent indicated that “to have freedom of choice in how to live” was essential to achieving the American dream. In addition, 83 percent indicated that “a good family life” was essential.
Most people know the "Up series." They're illuminating in that they give you a longitudinal view of English life from 1958 to 2012. But that's English life. Frontline has done a couple; they aren't immediately searchable to me but they followed three families for ten years in Michigan and they followed two boys for ten years in Kentucky.
So let's take two families: the Clampetts and the Garcias. For stereotype's sake, let's have the Clampetts have two generations of heritage where they are; Grandma Clampett moved to town after WWII. All else is equal. Same family size, same family intelligence, same family makeup, same family education.
- likely live in a town whose population has declined. Everyone of means has moved away.
- likely have a mortgage on a property whose value is not going up. Everyone wants to move to the city because that's where the jobs are.
- likely remember when things were better. The highways were built when Meemaw was young, the schools were built when Maw was young, and the Walmart skeletonized downtown a decade ago.
- Have no roots locally. They can move anywhere. They've already given up everything to be here.
- Have no nostalgia. It's all new to them, and no one is threatening to kill them if they rat out the local dealer.
- Have no burdens. They might have coyotes to pay off. They might have relatives to send money to. But they can do that from anywhere.
All else being equal, immigrants have an easier time in These United States because there's nothing holding them back. Meanwhile the locals are trying to build the American Dream for their kids the same way their parents built it for them and they can't. The game has changed. It's radically harder. It's overwhelmingly less rewarding. And all around them are the ruins of empire reminding them how much better things were back when Reagan was president.
There's a long conversation that could be had about capital investment, marginal tax rates, globalism, educational policy, tax policy, predatory lending, the lot of it. But there's a short conversation that sounds a lot like "if you're not with us you're against us." And when they look around the town, it seems like the only people who are better off than they were five years ago are the auslanders.
Until we, as a country, can say "we fucked up the Heartland and we're sorry, here's what we're going to do to fix it" the Heartland is going to be resentful of everyone who isn't stuck paying a mortgage in a decaying town in upstate Ohio where nobody works anymore and where the kids shuffle off never to return as soon as they graduate high school. Civilization naturally accumulates in cities and the impediments to mobility we've renamed "the American Dream" are depriving large swaths of the United States the opportunity to advance.