Several years ago I read Charles Murray's Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010 to better understand the shifting patterns in American working/upper class culture. It was not as obvious to me at the time, as I assumed like everyone else that the general working class was always slanted toward more traditional Democratic values (the one exception being the Reagan years where there was a slight counter shift). But in respects to Murray's work, which compared the two communities of Belmont, MA and Fishtown, PA, there is a different story as to an increasing divergence that begun to emerge for several decades between the college-educated elite living in the super-zips (a la bubble) from those with little education, eking out a meager living in more rural areas. Much of this points to economic shifts, but Murray highlights more the cultural underpinnings that created this mess.
One Amazon reviewer says, “in 1960 Fishtown was a very Catholic neighborhood in which the men worked, the women stayed home, and the kids went to Catholic school. My ex-wife was one of them. What they considered to be social problems were excess drinking, quite a bit of it, fistfights and a bit of philandering. Young people, however, knew what was expected of them. They got married, before or after becoming pregnant, and provided families for kids. It was a moral expectation that was generally observed. People had responsibilities and took them seriously. They did not accept welfare, they answered the call when they were drafted, and they participated in church and civic organizations. Fishtown in 2010 is a very different place. People simply don't feel an obligation to either work or get married. There are many never married people, and many out of wedlock children. A lot of the guys are just bums - don't work, don't want to work, don't want to get married, and waste their time watching television. An inordinately large number have figured how to game the system by qualifying for Social Security disability. Their attitude is that work is for chumps. Quite a few of them have drinking and drug problems, but Murray does not consider these disabilities to be nearly as important as the lack of any of the four foundations in their lives. No more religion, no social connections with the community, either no marriage or an unsatisfactory marriage, and no vocation.”
Yet in Belmont, the picture is quite different. “Murray claims that the state of affairs in Belmont is much better. People work hard, get married, stay married, are resolutely and obsessively concerned with their children, and are involved in community. More than that, counter-intuitively, they are more involved in church than are the people remaining in Fishtown. They may not believe the dogmas, but they understand the social value of belonging. What has changed in Belmont is the conviction that the set of virtues they practice really ought to be preached. Belmont now believes totally in moral relativism. If somebody else doesn't want to remain married to his kids' mother, doesn't want to work, or spends all of his money on drink and drugs and all of his time watching TV, they're not going to be judgmental. That's somebody else's life.”
Murray sums it up best when he says, “the hollow elite is as dysfunctional in its way as the new lower class is in its way. Personally and as families, its members are successful. But they have abdicated their responsibility to set and promulgate standards. The most powerful and successful members of their class increasingly trade on the perks of their privileged positions without regard to the seemliness of that behavior. The members of the new upper class are active politically, but when it comes to using their positions to help sustain the republic in day-to-day life, they are AWOL.”
Where once there was a time when people of any class admired the upper classes in America, now there is little to admire as having an ideology of non-judgmentalism does little to help a working class with a decaying moral and social fabric. Such frustration could only lead to the desire for a outside statesman with strong convictions that could rattle the current system to its core.
Moreover, the new upper class non-judgmental stance is not without its hypocrisy, as there is a contempt the bleeds from the top-down. Locked into their value-laden bubble, they can't even relate to working class America anymore. Murray showcases this through a quiz in his book...
- Have you ever lived for at least a year in an American neighborhood in which the majority of your ﬁfty nearest neighbors probably did not have college degrees?
- Did you grow up in a family in which the chief breadwinner was not in a managerial job or a high-prestige profession?
- Have you ever walked on a factory ﬂoor?
- Have you ever held a job that caused something to hurt at the end of the day?
- Have you ever had a close friend who was an evangelical Christian?
- Do you now have a close friend with whom you have strong and wide-ranging political disagreements?
- Have you ever had a close friend who could seldom get better than Cs in high school even if he or she tried hard?
- During the last month, have you voluntarily hung out with people who were smoking cigarettes?
- During the last ﬁve years, have you gone ﬁshing?
- How many times in the last year have you eaten at one of the following restaurant chains? (Applebee’s, Wafﬂe House, Denny’s, IHOP, Chili’s, Outback Steakhouse, Ruby Tuesday, T.G.I. Friday’s, Ponderosa Steakhouse)
- In secondary school, did you letter in anything?
- Have you ever participated in a parade not involving global warming, a war protest, or gay rights?
- Since leaving school, have you ever worn a uniform?
- Have you ever ridden on a long-distance bus (e.g., Greyhound,Trailways) or hitchhiked for a trip of ﬁfty miles or more?
- Have you ever watched an Oprah, Dr. Phil, or Judge Judy show all the way through?