Newspaper article International New York Times

Whose American Dream?

Newspaper article International New York Times

Whose American Dream?

Article excerpt

Trump embodies showy wealth. Rubio talks about his struggle. Voters seem to like one version better than the other.

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 reality.

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. …

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