With the re-election of Barack Obama on November 6, the U.S. officially voted for itself to change from a society where equality of opportunity is no longer highly valued. Instead it decided to become a nation where equality of outcome reigns supreme.
From colonial times until recently Americans took pride in being rugged individualists. The colonists came to an unknown land to establish themselves in the land of freedom and opportunity. Most came to the colonies from Europe hardly knowing what to expect, but anxious to find out.
Most early settlers had little if any money, and America did not welcome them with a vast array of social services to keep them warm, dry, and well fed. They came with little more than determination to carve out good lives for themselves and their families.
Social Darwinism, the philosophy that the fittest members of society could, would, and should, rise to the top was widely accepted. While rising to the top, society’s winners created giant corporations and small enterprises which employed the members of the bottom layers of the country, so everyone benefitted. The system seemed to work. Everyone’s life improved.
If people fell on hard times due to sickness, accident, or other circumstances, they could usually count on aid from family, friends, and the church. There was no government safety net to catch them when they fell. The community rallied around them.
The philosophies of rugged individualism and Social Darwinism worked well for more than 200 years in America. Was it perfect? Of course not, but slowly and surely things improved for most everyone. The big improvements were the end of slavery, women’s suffrage, and the civil rights movement. But as things improved for the majority, an increasingly shrill minority began to grow. This minority was highly discontent.
This minority believed the rich got rich at the expense of the poor, and therefore owed the noble poor a share of their wealth. They believed the economy was like a pie. If someone got a large piece, the others got smaller pieces.
They were opposed by the majority who believed the pie was always expanding as the economy grew. If someone got a large piece, in a growing robust, and vibrant economy, the remaining pieces would grow larger too.
Slowly but surely the people unhappy with society began to grow in number. Their cries became ever more audible. Starting in the 1930s with the New Deal they, as a group, were strong enough to get national legislation passed.
All the while those unhappy with America as it was began to complain that the evil rich, bankers, and Wall Street were holding the rest of society back. Trade unions grew strong. Capitalism was said to be the culprit, not the solution.
In the 1960s President Johnson rammed his Great Society through congress. Combined with several civil right acts, equality under the law was established. Things looked rosy for a while, but there was a fly in the ointment.
The Great Society solved some problems, but it caused many new ones. The way the welfare laws were written led to the dissolution of families. This in turn caused a collapse of communities. Neighbors no longer helped neighbors. Instead they looked to the government. With no sense of community there were fewer restrictions on behavior. Crime went up.
The rich were not evil when it was FDR or JFK who were wealthy. In 2004 John Kerry, the richest man in the Senate, ran for president and he was not vilified for being very affluent. In fact I can’t remember when his hundreds of millions were discussed in a negative way at any time during his failed campaign. By 2012 being rich had become being evil. Romney was vilified for being rich, and Obama’s campaign constantly decried the rich for not doing their “fair share” to help the nation.
No longer is it acceptable to say different people have different abilities and should expect different outcomes in life. Instead of hard work, intelligence, and a little luck being the reasons for success, the malcontents blamed the roll of the dice. In other words, people were rich and successful because they were lucky. Of course this philosophy became very popular with many in American society.
In 2008 for the first time ever America turned toward a candidate who promised to bring the lower classes up while tearing down the achievers. He promised to take from the achievers and give to the non-achievers, thus leveling society. He made great strides at keeping this promise during his first term.
In 2012 Barack Obama was re-elected president despite presiding over the worst economy since the 1930s. His failure to cut the deficit in 2008 was forgotten as spending and government debt ballooned. He promised he had only begun the transformation of America, and his re-election gave him his mandate to do so. in 2012 America changed from a land of equal opportunity to a land of equality of outcome.