Trump Could Not Extinguish the American Dream. The Data Prove It.

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Despite nationwide protests, acts of sedition, utter chaos in governance, constant divisive rhetoric, a global pandemic, and many troubling policy pronouncements, neither Donald Trump nor his supporters could destroy the American Dream for the overwhelming majority of Americans. As the new Biden administration settles into the White House, I am pleased to report that the American Dream is alive and well.

Thanks to new data from the Los Angeles Times/Reality Check Insights poll conducted after Trump’s re-election loss to President Biden, 79% of Americans believe that they have either achieved or are on their way to achieving the American Dream with just a fifth of Americans believing that the Dream is not attainable to them.

This is very good news for the nation and reveals the country’s strength because midway through the Trump term, in the summer of 2018, 80% of Americans thought that they had either achieved the American Dream or were on their way to achieving it and this is a marked improvement from 2005 where almost 30% of Americans believed that the Dream was out of reach for them. Another 32% believed that they had achieved it and 38% believed that they were on their way. The latest data reveal that even in the midst of so much turmoil and socio-economic instability, Americans remain tremendously optimistic and resilient and positive in their forward thinking even along well-known fault lines that have emerged in recent years.

Consider racial differences with the Dream and that fact that outside of the COVID-19 pandemic and concerns with government dysfunction, the issue of race relations has dominated all other area as the most important issue facing the nation. Nevertheless, there is racial parity on being confident in the Dream for just 22% of Whites and 24% of Blacks believe that the Dream is out of reach for them. While there are real racial differences in terms of having realized the Dream — 38% of Whites compared to just 22% of Blacks believe that they are living the Dream — the fact is that huge numbers of Americans regardless of their racial background are hopeful that their version of the Dream can and will materialize.

Significant differences in outlook, values, and general approach to life among the generational cohorts have been another area of fracture in the nation with Boomers continuing to hold many positions of power and leadership. The good news, again, is that notwithstanding an almost 5-decade difference between those 70-plus year-old Americans in the Silent Generation and the now maturing Gen Zers who are barely in their 20s, all generations are believe that the Dream is something that can be real for their members.

Even with the social and economic troubles of the moment, almost three-quarters of Gen Zers and 81% of Millennials believe that the Dream is something that they have or can realize in their lives. Boomers are not higher at 80% and Silents are even higher at 89% and this is because majorities in both cohorts here believe that they are living the Dream and benefitted from decades of economic growth and being in positions of influence and power compared to Gen Zers. Even with these real generational disparities, the greater part of both young and old Americans see the Dream as real to them.

Geography did not play a particularly powerful role here either. Collectively, 80% of those in Trump states stated that they were living or were on the way to living the Dream compared to 78% of those in Biden supporting states. California was at 83%- — but there is tight geographic clustering here as well despite real economic and political differences and places which are gaining population like Texas are at 87% an 80% for Floridians. Even New York, with its high taxes and bitter political divisions, has a positive Dream rate of 81% and continues to draw businesses and immigrants.

Of course, there are some areas where the realization of the Dream is not so uniformly forward looking. Educational level is one such area where almost two-thirds of those Americans with high school diplomas are positive on the Dream compared to 90 percent of those with hold an undergraduate degree or higher believe that they can or have achieved the Dream. This 21-point difference is significant and suggests that education as a pathway to happiness is something that must be considered seriously as the nation moves forward.

As President Biden along with a unified Congress lay out their new initiatives and the nation tries to heal from elite polarization and the storming of the U.S. Capitol, it is absolutely crucial to remember that large numbers of Americans are still confident in the future of the country and think that they have or will be able to achieve the American Dream. The factors that divide us as a people — race, age, and place — are not in play here either. President Biden would be well advised to remember that his policies should serve all Americans in achieving their Dream if he really wants to unify and heal the nation.

Samuel J. Abrams is professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.



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