The Land of, Uh, Opportunity?

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British-born custom shotgun-maker and shooting instructor Dale Tate of Ione, California told me once that he immigrated to America from Great Britain because he got so sick and tired of the rigidity of the British class system that made it almost impossible for anyone to rise above the station into which he had been born. He told me many of his own frequently humiliating experiences trying to better himself and being reminded at every turn that he didn’t have the right accent, the right manners, the right education, the right, well, breeding, Darling.

I thought of Dale recently as various seemingly unrelated things I had read all came together to make some sort of troubling sense of life in America today.

The first thing to mention is an article I read positing the theory that Donald Trump’s success, and his appeal to so many Americans, is understandable because supporting him is a way to give a single-digit salute to all the Washington elite as well as the offensively wealthy who both support and profit from those elite, while the rest of us, the vast majority of the country, struggle to maintain a diminished status quo, or slide further down the rungs of the socio-economic ladder. This us-versus-them situation is nothing new, nothing that can be laid upon Barack Hussein Obama’s shoulders or any one single president’s shoulders; it has been coming on slowly pretty much ever since World War Two, though its roots could be traced back further still.

The next thing was reading Guns and Violence: The English Experience, by Joyce Lee Malcolm, who put forth the theory that gun control in Great Britain had its genesis in the ruling class’s fear of the growing impoverished classes, the same ruling class that worked steadily over many decades to remove any ownership of firearms of any kind. The problem is that as I was reading her book, I was simultaneously reading my monthly copy of The Field, England’s foremost sporting (hunting, stalking, shooting, fishing, and conservation) magazine, where every month there are articles about well-heeled Brits stalking stag and shooting birds or sporting clays with the kinds of unaffordable firearms most of us only read about or see in museums. I spoke to a friend of mine who was raised in Scotland and he seemed mildly surprised that I was surprised. Oh, yes, he said, there has always been one law for Great Britain at large and another law for the privileged few of that nation. He went on to tell me a story about working as a teenager for a titled, land-owning lord who sent him out to buy some ammunition for one of his Lordship’s handguns, this at a time when handguns had been recently banned throughout Great Britain. At the store, a very stuffy and unfriendly salesman told my friend he would have to provide identification, fill out paperwork, wait several months, get cleared by the police, pass a special … My friend interrupted to explain it wasn’t for him but for Lord Deep-Pockets. Oh, in that case, said the store owner, take the ammo with you right now; how many boxes does his Lordship require?

The final thing I read was the transcript of a speech given at Hillsdale College by Professor Frank Buckley (Scalia Law School, George Mason University) in which the professor referred to a Pew Charitable Trust study of economic mobility in seven developed, First World countries. The most immobile country, where upward mobility is almost impossible and the ruling classes remain the ruling classes for generation after generation, is—not surprisingly—Great Britain, with a rating of .50. The most mobile country, where anyone can slide up or down depending on their abilities, is Denmark, with a rating of .15. The second most immobile—immobile—country, with a rating of .47 (!), is America, the fabled Land of Opportunity. What that means is that a handful of mega-wealthy, well-connected families with networks of insider connections (mostly meaning inside the beltway) not only control the wealth, but also the politicians who help maintain the status quo, and that the likelihood of one of their kind dropping down into middle- or lower-class status, or the equally improbable likelihood of someone from the projects or a small farm in Missouri ever making it up into their rarified upper tier, are both highly unlikely.

Professor Buckley attributes this frozen and destructive economic rigidity to a variety of causes, primarily a two-tier educational system that provides excellent educational opportunities for the wealthy elite and a mediocre (at best) K-12 public school system for the great unwashed.

He attributes America’s economic immobility to an open immigration system that “supports inequality and immobility” [his words] by taking in everyone under family-preference categories (as opposed to economic categories), with no consideration of how those persons might benefit America.

He attributes America’s economic immobility to a rule of civil law (especially regarding property rights and contracts) that has been manipulated and corrupted by the wealthy to benefit the elite until anyone from ranchers to elderly urban pensioners can lose their homes to someone with deeper pockets and better lawyers. When a legal system is biased toward the wealthy and better-educated, there is no such thing as democracy, not to mention equality, or trust, and you can forget about any chance of upward mobility.

He attributes America’s economic immobility to corruption (as ranked by Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index) where lobbyists and the elite can use their wealth to buy laws that benefit themselves. (Consider Hiz Honor Mayor Michael Bloomberg buying anti-gun laws in states—Washington already, with Nevada and Maine in his sights this election cycle—where he doesn’t even live.)

It was while pondering all this that I realized what a terrible mistake poor Dale Tate had made. He followed the myth instead of the reality: he should have immigrated to Canada, where the economic mobility ranking is second only to Denmark with a score of .19. He would have found the Land of Opportunity still alive and well in its new home north of the border.

Of course, the irony in all this is that the outsider Donald Trump is, in fact, one of the ultimate members of the American aristocracy: inherited wealth (vastly increased by him, to his credit); private schools; first-rate colleges; the network of connections that come with all of those. If you want further proof of his entrenched position as one of the favored few, the elite, the American aristocracy, you need look no further than the fact that—to go back to the British example illustrated by my friend—he has a concealed carry permit in New York City, where the Sullivan law virtually proscribes firearm ownership of any kind. If you doubt me, and you live in one of the five boroughs, just try getting a concealed carry license. Let me know how you get along.

The difference is that there is a sort of genial and combative working-class boorishness to Trump that appeals to those of us who are sick to death of the idiocy of political correctness run amok. In one single day last week I read an article by an outraged progressive liberal castigating a novelist for cultural appropriation (as a white person, she had had the temerity to write a novel about a black woman) and another article by another progressive castigating Hollywood as a hotbed of racism because so few roles are written for minorities and the LGBTQ members of our society. (Make up what we laughingly refer to as your minds, progressive liberals: do you want cultural appropriation—also known as creative imagination, sort of what all writers and actors have to do and have done for all time—or do you want exclusion dressed as racism? It’s an either-or and you can’t have it both ways.) Trump also appeals to those of us who hope and pray he will actually live up to his self-proclaimed status as an outsider. Who among us, after a few beers with our buddies, isn’t convinced he could fix this country if he only had the chance? That’s the persona Trump projects, and since the country certainly hasn’t been served well by liberal elites, maybe, just maybe, the Trumpster might be able to quaff an Oktoberfest special brew and git ‘er done. As he likes to say, what have you got to lose? The answer is: at this point, not much.

If you doubt that America is no longer the preeminent land of opportunity, and that we have become a nation of two sets of laws, two separate standards of living, two separate standards of ethics, two separate standards of right and wrong, consider some of the signs of unrest and unhappiness occurring across America today:

Black Lives Matter rioting and calling for the assassination of police on one side of the political spectrum, with angry, disenfranchised, and armed ranchers confronting federal officers on the other; professional athletes protesting “oppression” by the police on one side, with police being assassinated in the streets on the other; radical Islamic terrorists bombing, shooting, stabbing, and beheading innocents across the country, with thousands of first-time gun owners (predominately women) taking defensive shooting classes at schools from New Hampshire to LA; illegal immigrants protesting the idea they should be thought of as illegal immigrants on one side, with angry people holding up unpleasant signs suggesting they all go home on the other; blacks calling all whites racists on one side, with whites calling all blacks racists on the other; a self-proclaimed Socialist nearly clinching the Democratic nomination on one side by claiming the rich have hijacked America, with a billionaire reality TV star clinching the Republican nomination on the other side by claiming the political elite have hijacked America (both are right). I could go on, but you can read the news yourself. When everybody is unhappy with the way the country is being run, the government might do well to consider moving on to Plan B. After all, Canada is only a short drive away.

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