17th February 2013
Timothy Egan writes for the New York Times on American politics and life, as seen from the Upper West Side.
Voices of the Crust, like Gorillas in the Mist, are totally predictable.
Like everyone else with a perverse curiosity about a castle-bound community fussing over whether to use a bouillon or a melon spoon, I’ve been consumed by the turns in “Downton Abbey,” the latest export from England to keep American public television afloat.
‘Perverse curiosity’? How about a more honest ‘secret longing’? Scribblers in service to the Crust have a secret wallet-envy for their inherited-wealth masters that often breaks out in the most revealing ways. At times it even leads them into inadvertent admissions of truth, such as this one that American public television is so bad it depends on foreign imports to stay above water.
But if someone with grease on his hands and an accent from a workaday neighborhood can rise to an estate management position in the rigid British class system, what, by comparison, are we to make of the American experience nearly a century removed?
Note that this apparently doesn’t apply to people named Kennedy who are in their fourth generation of living off the pile left by a former bootlegger and Democrat machine-politician.
Oh, but we are a nation free of class conflict, we tell ourselves daily, and live with the illusion that everyone with a job is somehow middle class.
As, indeed, they think of themselves – try to find somebody who goes to a job everyday that doesn’t describe himself (or herself) as ‘middle class’, however much they may have in the bank. It is this perception of themselves as ‘middle class’ that makes Americans, well, middle-class, especially in their outlook. The only people these days who think of themselves as ‘upper class’ (although they are never so gauche as to say it out loud) are the trust-fund babies of the Crust and their lickspittles in the press and the academy; again, it is self-perception, rather than bank balances, that maketh the man (or woman).
And yet, a raft of recent studies has found the United States to be a less upwardly mobile society than many comparable nations, particularly for men.
A trend that Democrats, Party of the Crust, keep hammering home, with policies ranging from the minimum wage (to keep working class people from entering the middle class) to confiscatory tax rates on income and inheritance (to keep middle class people from competing with the Crust for tony restaurant seats, slips in the marina, and condos in Aspen). The most ironic aspect of ‘less upwardly mobile’ in America is that the people complaining most loudly about it are the people most responsible for it in the first place.
One survey reported that 42 percent of American boys raised in the bottom fifth of income stayed there as adults.
Two words: Minimum wage. (Two more words: Gangsta culture.) If your idea of success in life is Kanye West or Tupac Shakur, then yeah, you’re going to be in the bottom fifth of income for pretty much ever.