Last week I spoke to my Dad on the phone just as he was heading off to an event at UC Riverside featuring author, political scientist and Harvard professor Robert Putnam. Putnam was in town to discuss his latest book, “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis.” As we were finishing up our conversation, I blurted out “Why don’t you write a blog post about the event?” My Dad has never written a blog post, so I am delighted and thrilled that he decided to give it a try and I am honored to be the one to publish it.
By Les Whitaker (Guest Blogger & my Dad)
In a recent New York Times opinion column, Ashley Parker discussed the recent outbreak of violence at Trump campaign rallies. She concludes that both supporters of Mr. Trump and protesters “say they feel deeply wronged and disenfranchised, albeit in different ways.” Both sides are obviously angry.
The Trump supporters explained to her “how their vision for the country — a place where if you worked hard and followed the rules, you could provide for you family and have a decent life — is being snatched from them.”
Ironically, the protesters have the same vision. Many are minorities, including Blacks, Hispanics and Muslims. They too believe in the American dream, “believing that if they worked hard and followed the rules, they could melt into this nation that has welcomed so many.”
Thus, both sides are angry because they see the American dream of upward mobility slipping away from them.
In his new book, “Our Kids, The American Dream in Crisis”, Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, “examines America’s growing inequality gap, why fewer Americans today have the opportunity for upward mobility, and what communities, parents, families and schools can do about it.”
In particular, Mr. Palmer focuses on equality of opportunity and social mobility as the essential components of the American dream. This basic principle has been compromised in the last several decades by startling increases in income inequality and a consequential segregation of Americans along economic class lines. The result has been de facto neighborhood and educational segregation along economic class lines.
Palmer addresses the factors that have created this crisis in families, parenting, schooling and communities by presenting stories of actual young adults in various situations.
In the concluding chapter, he finds in all these stories, and accompanying factual data, “the steady deterioration of the economic circumstances of lower-class families, especially compared to the expanding resources available to upper-class parents.” In other words, there is a link between income inequality and opportunity inequality which threatens the possibility of upward mobility which is at the heart of the American dream.
Mr. Palmer posits that unequal opportunity also inflicts an economic cost on the country as a whole and, more importantly threatens the essence of democracy (equal influence on public decisions) itself. He argues that ignoring disadvantaged children violates our deepest religious and moral values. He concludes that “the growing opportunity gap between rich and poor kids in America today is morally unacceptable.”
Mr. Palmer then presents a number of positive suggestions for actions that will potentially lessen the opportunity gap. These include tax and other policies that may strengthen the family, especially single parent families. Other suggestions relate to child development and early childhood education. With regard to schools, he suggests a number of possible measures that could lessen the opportunity gap, such as eliminating the effects of social class housing segregation by moving kids, money and/or teachers to different schools. Many other possibilities are presented for schools and communities.
All of these suggestions are based on the underlying principle that we each have a responsibility to everyone’s kids, “[f]or America’s poor kids do belong to us and we to them. They are our kids.”
Thus, the angry Trump supporters and the angry protesters have failed to examine the reasons why they are angry. If they did so, they would find that each group perceives, correctly, that the American dream is in crisis. Instead of being angry and violent at political rallies, they should examine the reasons for the crisis, as set forth by Mr. Palmer, and consider how they can become part of the solution instead of being part of the problem.