We like to have a positive view of ourselves and our country. But every so often we find something that jars us into rethinking our complacency.
I just ran across a review a book with the rather shocking title White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by historian Nancy Isenberg. It proposes that our society has actually been roiled by class conflict during every time in our history, something that normally we don’t like to think about. It’s an Amazon/com best seller, and 53% of its 116 reviews (so far) have given it five stars. The Boston Globe said it was “An eloquent synthesis of the country’s history of class stratification, one that questions whether the United States is indeed a place where all are created equal. White Trash powerfully unites four centuries of history—economic, political, cultural, and pseudo-scientific—to show how thoroughly the notion of class is woven into the national fabric.”
I haven’t gotten a copy yet, and it sounds like a depressing read. But it certainly is timely with our concerns about immigration, terrorism and the future direction of our country. Another editorial review, this time the Atlanta Journal Constitution, puts it this way: “What makes people whom Trump has never cared about before this election so eager to see him as their spokesman? What in tarnation do they see in his vague bluster and thinly coded racist remarks? For answers to these and other questions, look no further than Nancy Isenberg’s fascinating and unsettling new book . . . [a] meticulously researched survey of the class system in America.”
As a history student myself, I like to say we’ve always set high ideals, but usually don’t quite live up to them. Perhaps this is another way of explaining the contradictions.