loading words...

Dec 11, 2018 07:11:34

The perils of rugged individualism

by @vickenstein | 436 words | 🐣 | 218💌

Victoria Maung

Current day streak: 0🐣
Total posts: 218💌
Total words: 55041 (220 pages 📄)

At a dinner party surrounded by international students, the inevitable question arose, "How did you guys elect Trump?" I interpreted this as an opportunity to attempt to explain American attitudes.

The American 18th- and 19th-century frontier culture gave rise to rugged individualism. The Homestead Act of 1862, which stated that citizens could own whatever land they settled on, hearkened an era of westward-bound, land-claiming trailblazers.

Rugged individualism, is the idea that each person is responsible for their own success and failures. The self-reliant and enterprising person, through spirit of adventure and "sheer rise of ability and character" (President Hoover), reaps what they sow. Freedom and liberty dictate that this enterprising spirit be unencumbered by governmental intervention.

This attitude has grown to be a factor in several problems.

(1) Poverty has become stigmatized because Americans conflate "wealth with goodness and poverty with moral deficiency," according to JuanPa in 2016. Americans want to deny their impoverished state and act otherwise. Immigrants stealing jobs are easy scapegoats to blame for being poor. To these people, Trump says it "as it is."

(2) Americans want to own things because private ownership has become a guarantor of political agency and equality against public control. Trump promised to "take back" what was originally ours in a pre-global era: our manufacturing, our pride, our greatness. A Chinese student told me that in China, you don't buy property--you lease it from the government for 70 years. To him, it's no problem, but rugged individualism here in America has cultivated an expectation of unconditional ownership in terms of both property and private enterprise.

(3) Entitlement and income level seem to me inextricable. Echelon Insights published a study showing that higher-income parents expect parents to play a larger role in child development than schools, whereas lower-income parents expect schools and institutions to step in. They seem to believe that parents, more than schools, are responsible for how their child turns out. Rugged individualism makes it naturally acceptable for the "self-made" person (or set of parents) to feel responsible and entitled for their own success. Trump is viewed as a paragon of the "self-made" man with his real estate investments (ignoring the millions he took from his father).

This is not a comprehensive answer to the question at the dinner table, but I always like to think that thinking in terms of demographic attitudes is a promising start. 

As we push policy towards the diametrically opposite "European paternalism" end of the spectrum, I'm curious to see how we as a country will reconcile the values upon which settlers founded our America with a more socially conscious and inclusive set of policy initiatives.

contact: email - twitter / Terms / Privacy