Americans are sold on the idea of the "American Dream" almost from the time that they can talk. You are led to believe that if you stay in school, get good grades, stay out of trouble and achieve some kind of post secondary degree the good life is there for the taking.
The bar for the American Dream continually gets raised. For the 20-25 years following WW2 having a high school diploma and no criminal record was the ticket. Men (for the most part) following high school graduation could go down to one of their town's factories, mines or stores and become part of the growing middle class. They'd marry their sweetheart and start a family. Women if they worked often worked part time. Growing up in the 60s and 70s all of my cafeteria workers, school bus drivers and school secretaries were women looking to get out of the house for several hours a day, make a bit of money, be able to socialize with others and escape the drudgery of housework.
By the time I graduated high school in 1977 the bar had been raised. If one wanted the life of their parents, or better, the college degree was now required. So I like many of my graduating class of over 700 trooped off to college confident in the belief the degree we would receive in four years would be that ticket to the good life. And for a little while it was.
Then came the late 80s and 90s and the four year degree not longer cut it. Wanted the good life? Now one must get a Master's Degree to obtain the American Dream. So in 1992 myself like millions of others like me enrolled part time (along with full time students just out of undergraduate) in an MBA program. I attended the very respected business school at University of Maryland and by 1996 obtained that herald MBA. Surely I was in the driver's seat to the good life.
Wrong. Fast forward to 2013. I get laid off like many my age. The undergraduate degree, the MBA, the years of experience. Good enough? Nope. Now you need a STEM degree from a "prestigious university" for that American Dream. And by the way, being born rich with connections is a big advantage. It took me five years of struggling now I'm finally on the road but for me unfortunately nearing retirement age.
So for the past 50 years the bar to the good life, or the American Dream went from having a high school diploma and no criminal record to having some fancy "technology" degree from some big name university and hopefully connections from Mom and Dad. You don't Chelsea Clinton every spent a nanosecond of her life coming through the job postings on LinkedIn or Indeed praying that just one of those resumes sent might be an invitation to an interview.
Who sets the bar? The public, private and educational elites. They are the ones that love to lecture as youngsters on what will be needed to compete for the American Dream. Ordinary Americans understandably are wondering when do the elites stop moving the goal post? The elites are seen as the bold face liars they really are.
As "good jobs" become more elusive and exclusive our economy has replaced them with low wage service sector jobs. But trying living on $15 an hour, particularly if you have thousands and student loan debt. Not surprisingly certain groups get left out in the cold. Young people with little work experience, even with bachelors and masters degrees, older workers deemed too unreliable and unwilling to take on new learning, those with no more than a high school diploma, etc.
Now the scary part. Its going to get far, far worse. The bar will continue to rise. Those crummy service sector jobs that allow a person to hobble together an existence usually with the help of state assistance are going to either become economically unviable or replaced by technology. Retail clerks will be replaced by kiosks. Customer service reps by artificial intelligence. Ditto accounting clerks, security guards and assemblers. You get the picture.
Which leads us to the contemporary picture. Mucho pissed off Americans looking to hang the elite class that has betrayed them. Enter HRC and Donald Trump. Clinton is a walking model of elitism. Trump on the other hand may be brash, evasive, crude and maybe a bit hateful but despite his wealth he is anti elite. In fact, he thoroughly enjoys poking in their eye. Loves making fun of them. Telling stories about them whether true, somewhat true and false or totally false.
Should we be surprised he wins the election based upon taking votes in states that have been harm the most from the constant raising of the bar to the American Dream. Well the elites are because they've not gotten the fact the emperor has no clothes.
The elections of 2020 and 2024 will as 2016 will be able elitism and historical protocol against a new breed that rejects all that has been established mantra. The fight for what should be the American Dream will be in the balance. But the fight will ascend to a new level. Yes, it will be ugly. The elitism will fight to hold on while the insurgency will fight for recognition. It will be Ivy League against Rugby League. It might be just the world's greatest show on Earth.