I’ve been giving a lot of thought to our country this year, trying to understand why a man like Trump could appeal to so many Americans. I keep coming back to what people want out of life, what the American Dream looks like in 2017.
In my year of reflection and study and talking to people, I’m sorry to say no blinding insights materialized. If anything, I was wowed by how modest people’s hopes seem to be. And although it is impossible for me—a reasonably affluent, gay, white man—to understand the challenges of other races, sexual orientations, and income groups, I’ve developed a strong opinion that these modest hopes hold constant across race, region, religion, sexual orientations, and income groups.
What I’ve come to believe is that it involves to six critical areas:
1) Economics: The idea that anyone willing to work should be able to hold a job that pays a living wage.
2) Health insurance: The notion that nobody should have to file bankruptcy simply because they, or someone in their family, got into an ancient or became seriously ill.
3) Education: Every parent wants their child to have access to a good education, and that means they should be able to attend college even if their parents are not rich. And in these days of dizzying technological change, adults also need access to colleges so they can remain competitive in the marketplace.
4) Safety: People want their families to walk streets free from criminals and terrorists. To go to church or a concert without needing to worry about some psychopath with an assault rifle.
5) Environment: People are rightly concerned about the world we are passing on to our kids. We all want clean air, clean water, and poison-free food. And we want to protect wildlife environments.
6) Quality time: Time to enjoy life with your family, and in old age, to retire with dignity and respect.
Yes, I know that if you ask people what they want, off the top of their heads they mostly want to be millionaires, drive Teslas, own a big house with an indoor swimming pool, and fly first class to the best destinations in the world. But when it comes down to real hopes, I believe they would be happy with the list above.
It’s not much to ask. And it seems to me that these basic hopes are not just the American Dream, but what families the world over hope for. I like to think that most people understand the government can’t solve all their problems, but the flip side of that coin is that government shouldn’t stand in the way of people helping themselves to achieve everything on that list. And although government can’t do everything, they can, and should, help every American achieve these goals.