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From this Saturday's Up With Chris Hayes, Chris takes a look at the message we saw coming out of this year's Republican National Convention and as he concluded "It's an ugly message, but in a time of anxiety and diminished expectations, not a stupid one." It may not be stupid but it's extremely cynical.
This week the Republican party gathered in Tampa to tell a terrible and tragic tale of American decline. They couldn't quite say that, explicitly, of course. This is the party of Reagan and sunny optimism, or so they'd like to present themselves, but you couldn't help notice that the three days of speeches on the convention floor were an orgy of imagined persecution, grievance and doleful recollections of halcyon days gone by.
But the packaging for this message was insistent invocation of American greatness. As Rachel Maddow's team documented in a montage for MSNBC's convention coverage, almost every single speaker told a story of upward mobility, usually taken from their own family's past: tracing the arc of the American dream that had brought them to the podium.
Part of this is just standard political treacle, a way for, say, an extremely wealthy prep school graduate like Ann Romney, to seem relatable. But the larger reason this was such a dominant theme at the RNC is that the Republican Party's platform and tribal identity are zealously committed to the notion of American exceptionalism, and when people talk about American exceptionalism, this is usually what they mean. [...]
Somewhat oddly almost every single one of the stories of "we-built-it," plucky American success didn't revolve around the speakers own experience of social mobility but rather that of their hardworking relatives and ancestors. It struck me, listening to these invocations of the labors of previous generations as a slightly odd note, a backward looking tour of nostalgia for an America that we are losing. But of course, that's precisely the message of the Republican party this year and its a potent one because it's based on a core reality.
The dream of American mobility is slipping away. We all know about the extreme and accelerating inequality, but much less is made of our stagnating, even declining social mobility. Mobility is harder to measure than inequality, but nearly all studies show that it has plateaued, or declined for the past several decades.
Forty-three percent of those born into the poorest fifth of households will stay in the poorest fifth, while only 4% will make it to the richest 5th. But 40% of those born into the richest 5th of households stay there, and only 8% fall down to the poorest fifth. In other words, those born rich stay rich, those born poor stay poor, just like those stultifying, bygone aristocracies our forefathers fled. [...]
That's the message. The American dream is dying because the first black president is doling out food stamps and welfare checks to the lazy and indolent. He's seducing Americans into dependence, sapping our natural ingenuity, and in the process making us, in some deep sense, less America. Read on...