The American Dream is . . . Bad?

​This morning I saw this:

I figured I’d make a joke. In response I tweeted “A secure job with benefits, a living wage and a pension?”

​Not the greatest joke in the world, but they can’t all be winners. 

Quickly, I got this response: 

And yes, that “socialism” was meant as a criticism. 

It’s one thing to demonize individual components of what was once America’s labor landscape, such as unions, employer-provided benefits and the minimum wage. The right has been doing that for years. It’s quite another thing to be so brainwashed by conservative dogma that you see an essential component of the social contract and that which created the American middle class — people having good, secure, jobs — as a bad thing, full stop. Yet here we are. My correspondent here is not alone, by the way. I’ve seen many, many people push back against the proposition that good jobs with benefits and stuff is good for America. 

This is all part and parcel of Republicans turning terms like “liberal” and “socialism” and “union” into rank epithets. It’s an effort that seemingly cannot and will not cease. Now it must extend to things like a living wage and pensions and job security. Never mind that your father and grandfather were able to make a good life for themselves and their family as a result of those things. Some people on the left like ’em, though, and people on the left are evil commies, so they must be bad things too! 

Democrats are complicit in this, of course. As I discussed at length in my last post, in the 1980s they had no idea how to respond to the sophistry of using words like “liberal” as an epithet and they got creamed at the polls as a result. Since 1992 Democrats have moved heaven and Earth to avoid being called those sort of names. “Ha, ha!” Bill Clinton and his acolytes exclaimed. “You will never again win elections simply by calling us liberals! We’ve outflanked you!” 

Except it wasn’t just a matter of ducking the labels. Democrats, since Clinton was first elected, have disclaimed their identities as “liberals,” yes, but they have likewise abandoned a huge part of their values and platform to better inoculate themselves against the name-calling. They stopped zealously advocating for workers and for the poor. They’ve supported right to work laws and private equity and executives and Wall Street interests whose goals are antithetical to working people. With few exceptions, they’ve had no answer or response to the crisis of employment in this country, characterized by people being transformed from employees to contractors with a precipitous decline in wages, benefits and job security. 

I don’t know how to solve all of those problems, but I do know that they are huge problems that must be solved lest America turn into an oligarchy in which the rich and powerful own and control everything and everyone else just begs for scraps. Problems of which ordinary Americans are all too aware and from which they are increasingly suffering but there are scant few political leaders willing to listen and willing to fight for their interests.

You ask why someone like Bernie Sanders could mount a credible challenge to Hillary Clinton? It’s because there is a hunger for leaders willing to address this growing crisis. You ask why so many working people support a person like Donald Trump? It’s because, however little he actually believed what he was saying and how bankrupt his ideas to solve them were, he did say things that acknowledged the crisis. While politicians contort themselves and their values in order not to be accused of being too liberal or too conservative or whatever, most people don’t care about the labels like liberalism, progressivism, socialism, populism, you name it. They just want someone who will listen to them and help them make their lives better. 

As I’ve been writing in this space over the past few months, we’re in the process of a political realignment in this country. One in which working people, the poor and those who understand that there is more to life than the accumulation of wealth and more to government than the protection of the wealthy are, increasingly, finding their interests aligned. That’s the case even if they have, historically, fallen on the opposite sides of the Republican/Democratic divide. Absurd things like someone calling out people advocating for good jobs as a bad thing is evidence  that decades-old political programming is on auto-pilot now, divorced from what people actually desire and what is actually good for America. 

​Thinking America is better when people have a secure job with benefits, a living wage and a pension should not be a controversial idea. Those who believe it is are soon going to find themselves on the wrong side of the ongoing political realignment. Those who don’t are going to find a lot of people to support them.

Craig Calcaterra

Craig is the author of the daily baseball (and other things) newsletter, Cup of Coffee. He writes about other things at He lives in New Albany, Ohio with his wife, two kids, and many cats.