Christmas is a joyous, hopeful season, but, sadly, many Americans subordinate hope to joyless politics.
Among the most troubling features of the American left’s message is its incessant, thoughtless, class-based demagoguery. Progressives’ view of the American Dream includes invidious narratives about who's been cheated, by whom, how badly and why. The essence of the liberal agenda is context-free, emotion-arousing grievance and envy.
But, class-based politics poisons public discourse and diminishes America — and Americans.
Both exist, but, statistically, real third-world poverty and extravagant wealth are rare in America. Nonetheless, left-wing messages propagandize the polar extremes. Absolute terms — haves vs. have-nots, 1 percent vs. 99 percent — recognize no middle ground, yet most Americans live somewhere in the middle.
In purely material terms, most lower-income households today are better off than America’s middle class sixty years ago when most of today’s older people — Democrats and Republicans — were raised in smaller, less comfortable homes with fewer amenities and conveniences.
Proposals to confiscate the honestly-earned rewards of the "more fortunate" to provide benefits for others, including many who are able-bodied, appeal to progressives, but, in fact, the American jurisdictions with the greatest income disparities have been governed by liberals for generations.
Victimized there by lousy schools, harmful social engineering, job-killing policies and political self-interest, people who have been failed by liberal governance are those most likely to turn to government to “sustain” them. Politicians oblige because dependency provides large, demoralized voting blocs for elected class warriors who promise “free stuff.”
Financially-independent Americans still rely on families, friends, co-workers, churches and communities, but government handouts give recipients a false sense of independence without spiritual anchors such as the satisfaction of personal accomplishments, a sense of mutual obligation and social responsibility. Politicians who promise to solve “inequality” by expanding social welfare programs and redistributing wealth aren't serious about solutions. They're part of the problem.
History, economics and social experience show that the best ways to reduce income inequality, raise the living standards of the middle class and those at the lower end of the economic spectrum are not with partisan political spectacles or government handouts, but through individual responsibility and policies that grow the economy. Growth, along with the broad opportunities growth engenders, discredits the notion that individual success is a zero-sum game.
The core solutions to closing the income gap are education, work, sound marriages, families, personal responsibility and economic growth.
Equal opportunity is built into the American system. Though the equality of outcomes isn’t guaranteed, most any able-bodied, sound-minded person who pays attention in school, lives responsibly, works hard and makes good choices can do well.
Generous Americans will always look after those who genuinely cannot help themselves, but intrinsically-motivated people understand that what enriches life and generates pride, that lasts in people's lives and sustains them are the things they achieve themselves in a system that rewards hard work and responsible self-governance.
In America today, jobs, incomes and consumer confidence are way up, while poverty is down. Opportunities are plentiful. Hope abounds.
Contact columnist Jerry Shenk at firstname.lastname@example.org