Facing Up to the American Dream: Race, Class, and the Soul of the Nation

Princeton University Press
Free sample

The ideology of the American dream--the faith that an individual can attain success and virtue through strenuous effort--is the very soul of the American nation. According to Jennifer Hochschild, we have failed to face up to what that dream requires of our society, and yet we possess no other central belief that can save the United States from chaos. In this compassionate but frightening book, Hochschild attributes our national distress to the ways in which whites and African Americans have come to view their own and each other's opportunities. By examining the hopes and fears of whites and especially of blacks of various social classes, Hochschild demonstrates that America's only unifying vision may soon vanish in the face of racial conflict and discontent.

Hochschild combines survey data and vivid anecdote to clarify several paradoxes. Since the 1960s white Americans have seen African Americans as having better and better chances to achieve the dream. At the same time middle-class blacks, by now one-third of the African American population, have become increasingly frustrated personally and anxious about the progress of their race. Most poor blacks, however, cling with astonishing strength to the notion that they and their families can succeed--despite their terrible, perhaps worsening, living conditions. Meanwhile, a tiny number of the estranged poor, who have completely given up on the American dream or any other faith, threaten the social fabric of the black community and the very lives of their fellow blacks.

Hochschild probes these patterns and gives them historical depth by comparing the experience of today's African Americans to that of white ethnic immigrants at the turn of the century. She concludes by claiming that America's only alternative to the social disaster of intensified racial conflict lies in the inclusiveness, optimism, discipline, and high-mindedness of the American dream at its best.

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About the author

Jennifer L. Hochschild is Professor of Politics and Public Affairs at Princeton University. Among her other works are The New American Dilemma: Liberal Democracy and School Desegregation and What's Fair?: American Beliefs about Distributive Justice.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Aug 5, 1996
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Pages
440
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ISBN
9781400821730
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Language
English
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Genres
Social Science / Sociology / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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A democracy falters when most of its citizens are uninformed or misinformed, when misinformation affects political decisions and actions, or when political actors foment misinformation—the state of affairs the United States faces today, as this timely book makes painfully clear. In Do Facts Matter? Jennifer L. Hochschild and Katherine Levine Einstein start with Thomas Jefferson’s ideal citizen, who knows and uses correct information to make policy or political choices. What, then, the authors ask, are the consequences if citizens are informed but do not act on their knowledge? More serious, what if they do act, but on incorrect information?

Analyzing the use, nonuse, and misuse of facts in various cases—such as the call to impeach Bill Clinton, the response to global warming, Clarence Thomas’s appointment to the Supreme Court, the case for invading Iraq, beliefs about Barack Obama’s birthplace and religion, and the Affordable Care Act—Hochschild and Einstein argue persuasively that errors of commission (that is, acting on falsehoods) are even more troublesome than errors of omission. While citizens’ inability or unwillingness to use the facts they know in their political decision making may be frustrating, their acquisition and use of incorrect “knowledge” pose a far greater threat to a democratic political system.

Do Facts Matter? looks beyond individual citizens to the role that political elites play in informing, misinforming, and encouraging or discouraging the use of accurate or mistaken information or beliefs. Hochschild and Einstein show that if a well-informed electorate remains a crucial component of a successful democracy, the deliberate concealment of political facts poses its greatest threat.
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

"A riveting book."—The Wall Street Journal

"Essential reading."—David Brooks, New York Times

From a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, a powerful account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class

Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.

The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love,” and moved north from Kentucky’s Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually their grandchild (the author) would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving generational upward mobility.

But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that this is only the short, superficial version. Vance’s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother, struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, and were never able to fully escape the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. Vance piercingly shows how he himself still carries around the demons of their chaotic family history.

A deeply moving memoir with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures, Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how upward mobility really feels. And it is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of this country.

The American racial order--the beliefs, institutions, and practices that organize relationships among the nation's races and ethnicities--is undergoing its greatest transformation since the 1960s. Creating a New Racial Order takes a groundbreaking look at the reasons behind this dramatic change, and considers how different groups of Americans are being affected. Through revealing narrative and striking research, the authors show that the personal and political choices of Americans will be critical to how, and how much, racial hierarchy is redefined in decades to come.

The authors outline the components that make up a racial order and examine the specific mechanisms influencing group dynamics in the United States: immigration, multiracialism, genomic science, and generational change. Cumulatively, these mechanisms increase heterogeneity within each racial or ethnic group, and decrease the distance separating groups from each other. The authors show that individuals are moving across group boundaries, that genomic science is challenging the whole concept of race, and that economic variation within groups is increasing. Above all, young adults understand and practice race differently from their elders: their formative memories are 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and Obama's election--not civil rights marches, riots, or the early stages of immigration. Blockages could stymie or distort these changes, however, so the authors point to essential policy and political choices.

Portraying a vision, not of a postracial America, but of a different racial America, Creating a New Racial Order examines how the structures of race and ethnicity are altering a nation.

Some images inside the book are unavailable due to digital copyright restrictions.

Successful social policies for children are critical to America's future. Yet the status of children in America suggests that the nation's policies may not be serving them well. Infant and child mortality rates in the U.S. remain high compared to other western industrialized nations; child poverty rates have worsened in the past decade; poor health care, child abuse, and inadequate schooling and child care persist.

This book presents a new set of social policies designed to alleviate these problems and to help satisfy the needs of all children. The policies deal with the seven critical domains affecting children from birth through the passage to adulthood: child care, schooling, transition to work, health care, income security, physical security, and child abuse.

While nearly everyone agrees that children are in trouble, there is considerable debate over what kind of trouble they are in, why this is so, and whether government can or should more actively seek to solve these problems. Americans are evenly divided on the question of whether children's problems are more economic or moral in origin. The seven proposals in this volume both reflect and cut across ideological disagreements. Some call for more government, others call for less, and all call for different government methods for achieving socially agreed upon goals.

Recommendations include: replacing major welfare programs and tax subsidies with a set of universal policies, including national health insurance, child support assurance, and universal child care; offering publicly funded vouchers to allow poor children in inner-city neighborhoods to choose their own schools; using both private and governmental resources to get tough on crime through more stringent criminal justice policies and dramatic social measures; and expanding apprenticeship programs for non-college bound youths.

In addition to the editors, the contributors are Barbara R. Bergmann and Robert I. Lerman, American University; Douglas J. Besharov, American Enterprise Institute; John J. DiIulio, Jr., Princeton University; Julia Graham Lear, George Washington University; and Diane Ravitch, New York University.

The American racial order--the beliefs, institutions, and practices that organize relationships among the nation's races and ethnicities--is undergoing its greatest transformation since the 1960s. Creating a New Racial Order takes a groundbreaking look at the reasons behind this dramatic change, and considers how different groups of Americans are being affected. Through revealing narrative and striking research, the authors show that the personal and political choices of Americans will be critical to how, and how much, racial hierarchy is redefined in decades to come.

The authors outline the components that make up a racial order and examine the specific mechanisms influencing group dynamics in the United States: immigration, multiracialism, genomic science, and generational change. Cumulatively, these mechanisms increase heterogeneity within each racial or ethnic group, and decrease the distance separating groups from each other. The authors show that individuals are moving across group boundaries, that genomic science is challenging the whole concept of race, and that economic variation within groups is increasing. Above all, young adults understand and practice race differently from their elders: their formative memories are 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and Obama's election--not civil rights marches, riots, or the early stages of immigration. Blockages could stymie or distort these changes, however, so the authors point to essential policy and political choices.

Portraying a vision, not of a postracial America, but of a different racial America, Creating a New Racial Order examines how the structures of race and ethnicity are altering a nation.

Some images inside the book are unavailable due to digital copyright restrictions.


A democracy falters when most of its citizens are uninformed or misinformed, when misinformation affects political decisions and actions, or when political actors foment misinformation—the state of affairs the United States faces today, as this timely book makes painfully clear. In Do Facts Matter? Jennifer L. Hochschild and Katherine Levine Einstein start with Thomas Jefferson’s ideal citizen, who knows and uses correct information to make policy or political choices. What, then, the authors ask, are the consequences if citizens are informed but do not act on their knowledge? More serious, what if they do act, but on incorrect information?

Analyzing the use, nonuse, and misuse of facts in various cases—such as the call to impeach Bill Clinton, the response to global warming, Clarence Thomas’s appointment to the Supreme Court, the case for invading Iraq, beliefs about Barack Obama’s birthplace and religion, and the Affordable Care Act—Hochschild and Einstein argue persuasively that errors of commission (that is, acting on falsehoods) are even more troublesome than errors of omission. While citizens’ inability or unwillingness to use the facts they know in their political decision making may be frustrating, their acquisition and use of incorrect “knowledge” pose a far greater threat to a democratic political system.

Do Facts Matter? looks beyond individual citizens to the role that political elites play in informing, misinforming, and encouraging or discouraging the use of accurate or mistaken information or beliefs. Hochschild and Einstein show that if a well-informed electorate remains a crucial component of a successful democracy, the deliberate concealment of political facts poses its greatest threat.
Successful social policies for children are critical to America's future. Yet the status of children in America suggests that the nation's policies may not be serving them well. Infant and child mortality rates in the U.S. remain high compared to other western industrialized nations; child poverty rates have worsened in the past decade; poor health care, child abuse, and inadequate schooling and child care persist.

This book presents a new set of social policies designed to alleviate these problems and to help satisfy the needs of all children. The policies deal with the seven critical domains affecting children from birth through the passage to adulthood: child care, schooling, transition to work, health care, income security, physical security, and child abuse.

While nearly everyone agrees that children are in trouble, there is considerable debate over what kind of trouble they are in, why this is so, and whether government can or should more actively seek to solve these problems. Americans are evenly divided on the question of whether children's problems are more economic or moral in origin. The seven proposals in this volume both reflect and cut across ideological disagreements. Some call for more government, others call for less, and all call for different government methods for achieving socially agreed upon goals.

Recommendations include: replacing major welfare programs and tax subsidies with a set of universal policies, including national health insurance, child support assurance, and universal child care; offering publicly funded vouchers to allow poor children in inner-city neighborhoods to choose their own schools; using both private and governmental resources to get tough on crime through more stringent criminal justice policies and dramatic social measures; and expanding apprenticeship programs for non-college bound youths.

In addition to the editors, the contributors are Barbara R. Bergmann and Robert I. Lerman, American University; Douglas J. Besharov, American Enterprise Institute; John J. DiIulio, Jr., Princeton University; Julia Graham Lear, George Washington University; and Diane Ravitch, New York University.

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