A History of Our Time: Readings on Postwar America

By William H. Chafe; Harvard Sitkoff et al. | Go to book overview

The Forgotten American (1969)

Peter Schrag

Inevitably, the social protests of the 1960s provoked a counter-response. By the end of the decade a group, dubbed “middle Americans” by the media, had rallied to the defense of the flag, traditional authority, and good manners. One definition of “middle Americans” was primarily economic. Earning between $5,000 and $15,000 a year, they made up 55 percent of the population. The majority were blue-collar workers, lower-echelon bureaucrats, schoolteachers, and white-collar employees. As they saw the federal government pour money into impoverished areas, they developed a sense of neglect and resentment, believing that they were being ignored while vocal protestors received all the attention. Just as important, however, was a sense of crisis in cultural values, a belief that the rules were being changed in midstream. As Newsweek’s Karl Fleming observed, middle Americans felt “threatened by a terrifying array of enemies: hippies, Black Panthers, drugs, the sexually liberated, those who questioned the sanctity of marriage and the morality of work.” Antiwar protests galvanized these middle Americans into action. From their perspective, it was blasphemy to wear the American flag on the seat of one’s pants, burn one’s draft card, or shout obscenities at authorities. In the following article, published in 1969, Peter Schrag describes the resentments and values of this group, illuminating just how profound the polarization of the 1960s was, and perceptively explaining why so many would turn from the party of the New Deal to increasingly conservative candidates.

There is hardly a language to describe him, or even a set of social statistics. Just names: racist-bigot-redneck-ethnic-Irish-Italian-Pole Hunkie-Yahoo. The lower middle class. A blank. The man under whose hat lies the great American desert. Who watches the tube, plays the horses, and keeps the niggers out of his union and his neighborhood. Who might vote for Wallace (but didn’t). Who cheers

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