Laying Out American Inequality: The View from the Top

Matthew Stewart’s account of his holidays certainly resonates with some of us:

For about a week every year in my childhood, I was a member of one of America’s fading aristocracies. Sometimes around Christmas, more often on the Fourth of July, my family would take up residence at one of my grandparents’ country clubs in Chicago, Palm Beach, or Asheville, North Carolina. The breakfast buffets were magnificent, and Grandfather was a jovial host, always ready with a familiar story, rarely missing an opportunity for gentle instruction on proper club etiquette.

Getting past that, Stewart’s account of the nature of American inequality–especially benefiting those between the very top and the bottom–is probably the single best (if not perfect) description of how we got into the unequal pickle that we’re in today.  And along the way his description of how it is for people like him (and frankly like me) is an education that seldom sinks into Americans.

The way he ends his piece, however, betrays the steep climb he is looking at to solve the problem:

It’s going to take something from each of us, too, and perhaps especially from those who happen to be the momentary winners of this cycle in the game. We need to peel our eyes away from the mirror of our own success and think about what we can do in our everyday lives for the people who aren’t our neighbors. We should be fighting for opportunities for other people’s children as if the future of our own children depended on it. It probably does.

Like most people who come from where he does, he pooh-pooh’s the “old time religion” as part of the solution.  But that’s a mistake.  Christianity, with its affirmation of the basic God-created dignity of each person, is the only thing powerful enough to get us past our obsessive if self-concealed amour-propre and deal with the issues in front of us.

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