Originally published by The New York Times
When I was growing up, the American dream meant you had a house with a white picket fence, 2.5 children and a dog. I’m from a small city in Wisconsin, which has a well-regarded state university system that an overwhelming majority of my peers expected to and did attend. The promise of that university education was why the people I grew up with believed in the dream.
We made fun of the white picket fence part, which seemed stiff and boring to our 1990s teenage tastes. We cracked bad jokes about the best way to split the third kid in half. I lived in a white, straight, Christian city, but my friends who didn’t fit in those boxes and I believed in the dream too. My parents had fled there from a larger, dangerous city and worked their way up from apartments to a spacious house on the edge of town. Many of my friends were children of immigrants who had covered longer distances to achieve the same goal. Our parents had bettered themselves. We could too.
The American dream has been endangered for some decades now. I’m not the first person to point that out, and President Trump’s policies aren’t the first set of developments that have called it into question. The long decline of labor unions and the rise of automation, among other things, have made it harder for many people to afford a picket fence or 2.5 kids.
But the Trump administration’s racist and classist policies are hastening the demise of the American dream. His cruel, unnecessarily hard-edged approach to immigration enforcement goes after law-abiding, taxpaying residents. That, along with the recent tax cut on the rich that will be funded by the middle and lower classes, and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s lack of interest in public education, all serve as proof that the dream is dying.
Mr. Trump’s immigration policies are yanking the dream from many aspiring Americans. In 7-Elevens undergoing sudden immigration raids. In ICE detention centers where a 12-month-old baby was kept separately from his asylum-seeking parents. In the news that President Trump plans to deport 60,000 people to Haiti and 200,000 to El Salvador, the most dangerous country in the world. All that, along with the 800,000 “Dreamers” allowed to live here under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program who are waiting on Congress and the courts to see if they will be permitted to stay.
By adding 200,000 law-abiding Salvadorans, 60,000 law-abiding Haitians and 800,000 Dreamers, Mr. Trump is aiming to blow through the typical number of yearly deportations. This increase in deportations would reduce our ability to replace retired workers in our labor force, substantially decrease our state and local tax revenue and reduce our economy’s ability to innovate.
Since he used a vulgar term to describe Haiti and African countries and argued that America should be trying to attract immigrants from Norway instead, it’s clear that Mr. Trump doesn’t see black and brown immigrants as welcome in this country.
The new tax bill, in addition to imposing a tax increase on the working and middle classes over time, allows for private school parents to take up to $10,000 a year from tax-free 529 savings accounts to pay tuition, while capping the deduction for state and local taxes at $10,000, which reduces public school funding.
Secretary DeVos has chosen to ignore public schools in favor of promoting more expensive, restricted-entry private and charter schools. She has toured public schools and suggested that they adopt personalized learning approaches without offering specifics on how to do so, despite evidence that this approach doesn’t produce markedly different results from traditional teaching methods.
She’s limited the amount of loan forgiveness for students ripped off by for-profit colleges. And the Education Department rescinded an Obama-era guidance on college sexual assault, thus greatly raising the evidentiary standard needed for proof. The move also lifted the 60-day deadline for such cases to be resolved, encouraging colleges to let them languish indefinitely.
Though upward economic mobility is limited in this country, and how much money your parents make is highly correlated with how much you’ll make, people who go to college still make more money and have better careers than those who don’t. So the twin punch of taking funding away from public K-12 schools and encouraging for-profit colleges to continue to defraud students will undeniably limit people’s futures.
The American dream is being yanked out of people’s hands as they are physically shipped elsewhere, in many cases separated from the families that have always been a key part of this vision. It’s being taken out of their pocketbooks as the debt that will be incurred by the permanent tax cuts for the rich. It’s being stolen by diminishing opportunities to obtain a quality public education.
The American dream was never a perfect vision, insofar as it tended to exclude minorities and disparage the poor. But it encouraged us to see ourselves and our neighbors with love and potential, two values that are desperately needed in a diversity-rich country. And Americans still believe in it. A survey last August found that 36 percent of American adults believe their family has achieved the dream, defined as “freedom of choice in how to live,” “a good family life” and “retiring comfortably.” An additional 46 percent believe they are “on their way” to achieving it.
If we lose it, we run the risk of turning into a hostile, bitter people convinced that we cannot better our own circumstances, and that any neighbor who appears to have more than we do or is otherwise different from us is to blame.