The American Dream, James Truslow Adams wrote in 1931, is “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”

And yet here was the Sept. 26 headline, in the La Crosse Tribune and in newspapers around the country: “Income inequality hits highest level in more than 50 years.” How did we fall so far short of the national dream?

The recent Census Bureau report shows that the income divide here is well above that of any European democracy, and is the highest ever measured in America.

Ron Malzer


Parts of this are aspects of a tragedy we have created over four centuries.

The denial of basic human rights to African Americans and indigenous people, and the multitude of barriers in the path of women’s advancement, are crucial pieces.

Looking at the just-released report, Hector Sandoval, a University of Florida economist, declared: “In 2018 … top income earners got even larger increases in their income, and one of the reasons for that might well be the tax cut.”

The “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” was pushed through Congress in 2017 by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and former House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.,, and signed into law by President Donald Trump.

Top-tier stock investors — American and foreign — got most of its benefits; it drove up the national debt.

It was passed with little consideration or review, and only after Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told his Republican Senate colleagues that the flow of campaign donations would be severely impeded by a failure to pass the bill.

The tax cut compounded another enormous political obstacle to the American Dream: The vow made five years ago by McConnell to block any proposed raise to the long-out-of-date minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

Lurking behind the politics is “hyper-individualism.” Viewing community as unimportant, it’s a philosophy that sees society as nothing more than a collection of disconnected individuals, all fighting each other to acquire the most wealth.

Hyper-individualism was called out last year in the bulwark conservative journal National Review. Michael Hendrix wrote: “Prosperity flows from a healthy community, just as poverty lingers in broken relationships. These are truths that conservatives should voice.”

You have free articles remaining.

Become a Member

Register for more free articles.
Stay logged in to skip the surveys.

Robert Putnam, Harvard University professor of public policy, has documented the damage done by hyper-individualism in America during the last half-century.

He begins his 2015 book “Our Kids” by declaring: “My hometown was, in the 1950s, a passable embodiment of the American Dream, a place that offered decent opportunity for all the kids in town, whatever their background.

“A half-century later, however, life in Port Clinton, Ohio, is a split-screen American nightmare, a community in which kids from the wrong side of the tracks that bisect the town can barely imagine the future that awaits the kids from the right side of the tracks.

And the story of Port Clinton turns out to be sadly typical of America.”

Note that Putnam gives Port Clinton a “passable” grade in striving toward the American Dream; there’s no reference to a mythical golden past.

Racism, then and now, he acknowledges, are part of the story. Instead, he uses his hometown, 1950s era, as his benchmark to measure the ever-widening gaps that have emerged during the last six decades.

Putnam informs of us the potency of social capital, the informal connections and resources that sustain families through crises when they live on the right side of the tracks, but are in short supply on the other side.

He sounds the call loud and clear for fulling the commitment that we voice frequently, but often fail to act on: that all of our youth deserve the opportunity to get ahead.

Next year we will choose a president, vice-president, 34 senators, and 438 U.S. representatives.

We need to look closely at those currently holding office, to see if they have promoted those policies that have worsened the ever-widening economic divide between the haves and have-nots.

America needs to be a community, not a collection of warring profit-driven entities.

The building blocks for opportunity — a reasonable wage, affordable college education, and access to healthcare — have to be there for all if we truly believe in striving to make real the American Dream.

We need to make it clear to all those running for office that we truly believe in our stated value that all Americans, regardless of which side of the tracks they live on, are part of the American family.

Be the first to know

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Ron Malzer is a retired psychologist and freelance writer; you can contact him at ronsaturday@gmail.com.


(10) comments


I do have the right determine someone else’s reproductive rights when I pay the bill for the abortion


According to the Hyde Amendment no federal funds may be used to pay for abortion except to save the life of the woman, or if the pregnancy arises from incest or rape.


Here is another column that our friend D could profit from if he would read it carefully and take it to heart.


Have the government determine worth, ownership of private property, and regulate "fairness". No thanks. It's been tried and it fails every time.


This is the nubbin of Mr. Malzer's excellent essay, D, and apparently you did not digest it:

"Lurking behind the politics is 'hyper-individualism.' Viewing community as unimportant, it’s a philosophy that sees society as nothing more than a collection of disconnected individuals, all fighting each other to acquire the most wealth."

Nobody is campaigning for the government to determine the worth and ownership of property. We embrace capitalism and its extraordinary power for change, invention and creation of wealth. If you want a model of when it worked best for all of society in this country, look to the 1950s. People who invented and developed new products got impossibly rich, but they also got taxed accordingly, and those taxes underwrote services for the entire population, giving kids from poor and lower middle class families like the one I came out of a chance for a college education. It built infrastructure that made the rich richer, like the Interstate highway system and the airline industry, but it also made the middle class and working class richer in a significant way, too. It was not a Kumbaya time, but nevertheless it was a community time when we did not look at life as a race and a contest to accumulate the most money at the expense of everybody else.


Stay in school, don’t get pregnant, don’t get arrested, keep your pants pulled up, wear your hat properly, learn to speak understandable english, follow the norms of our society and you’ll do just fine.


Climate, how do you feel about all those PhD scientists who followed your strictures, have led lives that you would find exemplary in terms of industriousness, comportment and in personal morality, but came up with overwhelming scientific evidence that we are heading for the worst calamity in human history because we cannot wean ourselves from fossil fuels. Would they be doing just fine in your mind? And don't you think (assuming you are a male) that it is a bit ridiculous for you to be moralizing on getting pregnant, particularly if you are against women's control over their own bodies?


See the hypocrisy there? If certain politicians had it their way, Wealth and private property would be fair game, a tool to help balance inequalities. But how dare we comment on a person's reproductive choices, that's THEIR RIGHT.


Of course wealth should be a tool to help balance inequalities, D. That was the premise of America from the start. All for one, one for all, but in a capitalistic system that rewards innovation and invention handsomely, giving people the impetus to reach for excellence, but making sure ultimately the profits of excellence devolve into all corners of society. There is no hypocrisy, and nobody is going to come after your house OR your Glock. Nobody has a right to them, the same as you do not have the right to determine anybody else's reproductive choices. To argue otherwise would make you a hypocrite.



Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.