I’ve known the middle class was shrinking, but today on NPR I learned some hard numbers. They started a new series, “The New Middle,” seeking to answer the question, “What does it mean to be middle class in America today?”
The hardest numbers I heard was that since 1970, every decade has ended with fewer people belonging to the middle class. And that 2015 was the first recorded year when the middle class was no longer a majority, outnumbered by the rich and poor combined. Then NPR did what they do so well to reassure its listeners, by throwing in a misleading stat (courtesy of the Pew Research Center) that, of those who have left the middle class, two thirds went up to be rich, while only one third went down to be poor.
While it may be true, it’s misleading as far as thinking about the realities of downward mobility for so many Americans.
This is why I wanted Bernie – yeah sure, I’ll vote for Hillary, though my friend Judy would groan to hear me say that (more on Judy in a minute). I think of strong Hillary-supporters as people who listen to this New Middle NPR story and say to themselves, “see! It’s not so bad. More people who are leaving the middle class are getting rich!” and don’t bother to ask the deeper questions about wealth and class in America today.
But a Bernie supporter chucks the rose-colored glasses, seeing through the bourgeois bs. I could count on Bernie to be honest and have integrity about the realities of economic struggle. I want a president who points out that over one fifth of America’s children living in poverty is morally unacceptable, and here’s what can be done about it.
Bernie was the best hope for saving the middle class. When I said this to my friend Judy today, who is a Bernie-or-bust supporter, she retorted, “forget about the middle class – I mean, that’s important – but at this point for me it’s about saving democracy.”
Judy is distressed by the corruption she sees. From voter suppression that has inspired a national class-action lawsuit against the DNC to the fact that if you want to be a Bernie delegate at the Democratic National Convention, you are required to pay $600 per night for a minimum of 5 nights at a fancy hotel in Philadelphia. There are 1,879 delegates for Bernie, and they ain’t all rich. “We don’t live in a democracy,” Judy says.
She is going to Philly at the end of the month to be part of the protest scene outside the DNC. Judy is no youthful thrill-seeker in this regard. “I’m an old lady. I’m scared of getting gassed and pepper-sprayed. But our country is at stake. I have no choice but to take to the streets in protest.” She says she is willing to get arrested.
I admire her conviction, but cringe at a country led by Trump more than a country led by Hillary (Judy disagrees and says Trump’s bafoonery will be innocuous compared to Clinton’s aggression). I fear that neither presidency will do much to halt the tide of “A Tale of Two Countries.” While it’s more complicated than I’m about to state it, we have become a country of wealthier cities and poorer suburbs/rural areas. Warren Olney (I love that man) had a good piece on this recently, The City as the Power Center.
It all makes me think of two films that I’d sooner hope not describe our future, The Hunger Games and Her.
I thank Judy and others like her who have fought for Bernie’s candidacy for hours, weeks, months on end, and who are not giving up on the leader they believe in. They give me hope that plenty of Americans still care about the highest merits of democracy, with equality, freedom and opportunity for all.
Bernie had a refreshing combination of authenticity, realism, and idealism. And yes, I trusted him.
Until next time, Do the Hustle!
– Rev. At-Large, aka Rev. Hannah Hustlin’ Hope Petrie!