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Whose American Dream Flies?
Author: Bryce Covert
Date: Mar. 3, 2016
From: The New York Times
Publisher: The New York Times Company
Document Type: Article
Length: 933 words
Content Level: (Level 4)
Lexile Measure: 1160L

Full Text:
IN their campaigns for the Republican presidential nomination, both Donald J. Trump and Marco Rubio have said that the American
dream is either dead or dying. But for the American people, the dream still holds sway. It’s a basic myth of our country: No matter
where someone starts out, if he works hard enough he can climb to the top.

That’s part of why Mr. Trump, a candidate who has run on his own bountiful wealth, can attract such strong support among working-
class voters, winning across a range of income levels in South Carolina, Nevada and a number of the Super Tuesday states.

His rival Mr. Rubio has a pitch and personal history that tell a different story about the American dream — one that hews closer to

Mr. Trump, who loves to splash his name across buildings, has a fondness for gold and takes his private jet to campaign events, is
hardly shy about proclaiming the extent of his own fortune. ”I don’t need anybody’s money,” he said when he announced his
presidential run. ”I’m really rich.”

While he is often accused of taking a pessimistic tone, when it comes to how he talks about his own success, he strikes one of self-
aggrandizing optimism. He promises to make America great again, and that combined with the symbolism of his own financial
standing make for a promise of individual economic prosperity for all his supporters.

It’s a resonant message. In general, Americans, even those with few means, end up aligning themselves with the wealthy in the hope
that they, too, will eventually get rich. We consistently overestimate anyone’s chance of moving into a higher economic stratum and
we fervently believe our own hard work will make us rich someday. This is part of why a majority of Americans feel the country
benefits from having a wealthy class.

Mr. Trump’s promises about the American dream also go along with the well-documented intolerance of his supporters. The dream
they want to revive was not equally available to all races. In part because of racist government policies and exclusions from
programs, whites were able to step up the income ladder while blacks were kept on the bottom rungs.

Mr. Rubio is a different sort of candidate from Mr. Trump, and his approach to the American dream through his own experiences and
some of his proposals veer in another direction. As a child, he watched his parents struggle. He has frequently talked about what they
sacrificed and how hard they worked when he was growing up.

While he hails his own economic mobility, rising from being the child of a bartender and a maid to a United States senator, his is not
exactly a rags to riches story. He has a long history of financial difficulties: carrying large amounts of credit card, student loan and
mortgage debt; facing foreclosure on a second home; liquidating a $68,000 retirement fund; and getting in trouble for intermingling
transactions on a state Republican Party credit card with his personal spending, including repairs on his minivan.

He’s not running on that troubled history. But it may inform the way he talks about the struggles of working Americans. He’s stood out
a bit from the Republican field for stumping on tax breaks for working parents: an expanded child tax credit, and a new credit for
businesses that offer their employees paid family leave. The first credit, he has said, is meant to ”benefit millions of middle-class,
hardworking Americans.” Paid family leave would help address the ”conflict between work and family life.”

He has taken a decidedly pessimistic tone. For him, we’re living in a new time of economic insecurity. ”We will either adapt to the new
era and bring about another American century or, like so many nations before us, our inability to address new realities will usher in

our decline,” he has said. Rather than offer himself as an image of fortunes just within reach, Mr. Rubio has campaigned on the idea
that Americans are struggling.

Voters may love Mr. Trump for his bombast. But they should be wary of identifying with his fabulous wealth. Economic mobility in the
country has stagnated, failing to improve for the past two decades. Just one out of every 25 people who were born to parents in the
bottom half of the national income distribution will have a household income of $100,000 by the time they’re 30. Yet a third of those
who start out in the top 1 percent not far from Mr. Trump — who began his career with a $1 million loan from his father — will achieve
that status. Meanwhile, a child born into the poorest fifth has a 9 percent chance of reaching the top fifth.

It’s much more likely that an average voter will end up closer to Mr. Rubio’s situation. The average American has nearly $130,000 in
debt, according to the consumer financial advice site NerdWallet, and about $15,000 of it comes from credit cards. In the third quarter
of last year, about 93,000 people got a foreclosure notice.

On actual policy, Mr. Trump and Mr. Rubio genuflect equally to the wealthy at the expense of everyone else. So these differing
stories of American opportunity create a telling distinction between them. Mr. Trump’s story is clearly far more compelling to
Republican voters. He won seven states on Super Tuesday, as opposed to one for Mr. Rubio. We still desperately want to believe
that the dream is within our grasp.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up for the Opinion Today newsletter.

Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2016 The New York Times Company
Source Citation (MLA 9th Edition)
Covert, Bryce. “Whose American Dream Flies?” New York Times, 3 Mar. 2016, p. A23(L). Gale In Context: Global Issues,

link.gale.com/apps/doc/A444896563/GIC?u=aur58810&sid=bookmark-GIC&xid=25e9305c. Accessed 4 Feb. 2022.
Gale Document Number: GALE|A444896563

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