I once loved America, whether it existed or not
By Wendy McElroy
The concept of "class" may have destroyed more lives than any other. It is difficult to say, of course, because so many other concepts compete for that dubious honor, including racism and patriotism. Perhaps I am unusually sensitive to the devastation wrought by class structures that are imposed by law, tradition and prejudice because I come from a working class Irish family. My father had a sixth grade education and made a living with his hands until he worked himself to death, literally collapsing on the job.
Despite the unremitting labor that was my father's life, he was lucky. In North America, an Irish peasant stood a good chance to rise from nothing through sheer and unadulterated merit; he owned a modest home and had children who went on to be much more successful than him. In England, such a chance undoubtedly existed but the process was made more difficult by the entrenched elitism of those with the 'proper' accent who belonged to the Established Church... In yet other nations, the embedded class structure would have held him -- and his children -- in poverty and social stagnation forever. It is impossible to calculate the loss of human potential that such class structures have inflicted on mankind.
One of the true wonders of North America -- and, especially, the United States which moved much more quickly away from its British elitism than Canada -- was that it had "no class." I should be clear. Differences in wealth existed, certainly; then, as now, those differences meant that the fortunate few had more and better access to commodities, including justice. I also acknowledge and make no apology for slavery, the wretched status of women, indentured servitude or the many other social wrongs of colonial America. But there was something else -- something that de Tocqueville depicted so well in his pivotal work "Democracy in America" (2 volumes, 1835 and 1840). It was the seed of what made America great: the average working person had a chance to rise. For people like my father, there was an egalitarianism of attitude that allowed an increasing equality of social conditions for working people.
That's why my family risked crossing the Atlantic from Ireland in the mid-1800s despite the fact that fully 50% of such emigrants died on the voyages or shortly thereafter. They were willing to die for a chance.
Where has America's egalitarianism of attitude gone? I'm sure I've romanticized the depth to which it ever truly existed and it is an embarrassing caricature for middle-aged people (like me) to look around them with nostalgic dismay. All that aside, I have never seen such run-away elitism within America as that which exists right now. The main class division is between those in the political sector (the haves or the takers) and those in the productive sector (the have-nots or the 'taken'). The productive sector is being bled dry to pay for the pensions and perks of those who swill at the public trough; the working stiff is being mugged repeatedly by tax-grabbers to fatten themselves. The productive class are becoming homeless, jobless, hopeless, on food stamps, taxed at every turn...while the elitist likes of Michelle Obama vacation at $75,000 a day in Spain, while her husband closes down half of L.A. in order to drive through the streets without traffic. Policemen who pull down 6 figure pensions; illiterate teachers who suck the very futures from the children they storehouse in classrooms...However much outrage these elite parasites occasion...it is not enough by half.
America has betrayed its promise to working people -- the promise that said "if you risk your life for a chance, I'll give it to you." That said, "Your children can hold their heads as high as children of the rich or powerful; your children will have a chance as well." Perhaps that idealized America never existed. But the seed of it did. And the flowering toward a society of merit did occur,; in the process, it created an America that was arguably as class-free as anything in this world has seen. What a glorious thing. I will love that America forever.
But my father wouldn't stand much of a chance in today's America. He was a good, kind man who was honest and hard-working to the bone. He would have reacted to the thieving tax-whores by working harder and dying even younger because I don't think he would have believed that the basic concept of fairness had fled the Continent. He would have kept voting different people into the same positions of privilege in the hope that "the little guy" still made a difference. He would keep telling his children to study hard and obey the law because, if you do, then anything is possible to you. He wouldn't have believed the con job and scam that society has become; he wouldn't believe that those who work hard and come home after ten or twelve hours days, as he did, are now the chumps of the world. Working hard and being honest now makes you a fool who is willing to die young so that thieves may prosper at your children's expense.