Some time ago I re-read The Jungle, which everyone remembers to be about the meat industry in the early 1900s but is really about the building of America. Sure, there was a lot about how meat was processed and packaged and sold to the mostly unsuspecting public, but there was a lot more about race, prejudice, corruption, and wealth and poverty.
We have this image of America, of the brave outcasts who dreamed of a better life for everyone, who came to this unconquered (but not uninhabited) continent and set up a society in which every man, woman and child would have the ability to rise to wealth and comfort through hard work, and care for himself and his family without extreme hardship.
The upcoming presidential election has brought up what it means to work hard, and what it means to be comfortable. Everyone who was in the race was wealthy from the very beginning, and those who claimed to have worked their way to the top did so because of family connections or by living off of stock gains while they got their footings. Regular Americans? If they have stock it's not enough to live off the gains while they set out to chase their dreams, and more families today need two incomes to provide for the children, especially as healthcare costs increase year to year. There's the mostly unspoken idea that if you're unable to rise up into the ranks of the 1% you're just not working hard enough (mostly unspoken because it's been said, despite it still being highly taboo to bring that up). Obviously if the existing 1% got there (and obviously they got there by working hard and being smart), anyone can get there, so the poor and the struggling middle class should just stop whining.
But I work in a country where it's uncommon to be rewarded for your efforts, where those who make the most money within a company receive financial rewards that would make it appear they're benefitting the company when the reality is they're failing at their job, and where those on the bottom rung of the ladder work hard and long and with sometimes harsh demands because they're constantly under the threat of being fired and losing the things they're already only hanging onto by a thread. Employees have to prove themselves in order to get a modest (or deserved or well overdue) raise while CEOs and presidents pocket buckets of cash because it's expected, regardless of whether it's deserved.
The higher ups are also hiding behind the recession (which is over, apparently?), telling the workers that we're all struggling right now and promising things will get better once the economy does, you just have to wait it out like everybody else. And if it's obvious the company is doing well, or at least the CEOs aren't struggling, then it's unpatriotic to complain about your wage or your working conditions. All you have to do is put in your time and things will work out just like it did for the wealthy- don't complain when you're living in the greatest country on Earth.
In The Jungle, families came here using the very last of their life savings, after selling the farm and every single one of their possessions, save for some clothes and the things they can carry, because of the stories of prosperity and opportunity that this great new country provides. They came here willing to work hard and failed because working hard wasn't nearly enough, and wasn't even the issue. They were dumb and were taken advantage of, and nothing's changed since then. We're still willing to work hard, to give it our all, to build up the company that hired us, but we also want a little acknowledgement so that we, too, can make a life. It doesn't seem too much to ask for, especially when that's what the country has promised us. I am proud to be an American, but not always for the right reasons.