I was struck by the use (dare I say manipulation?) of the middle class leading up to the American Revolution. Zinn describes a class of artisans that grew up between the social, political, and economic elites and the poor, who were often the indentured folk in the colonies. The struggle of the elites in colonial times was to retain their power and somehow get others in the colonies to take their side over the British. How to rally the masses from supporting one elite to supporting another? The American elite appealed to the nascent middle class with calls for liberty and property. (Give me liberty or give me death.)
How familiar this sounds even today. The political and financial elites rally the masses with fears of liberties being taken away…speech, arms, search and seizure, etc. Some fears are justified, some not so justified, some manipulated. The non-elites are promised the opportunity for property, for a slice of the pie that the elites hold, but only if they buy into the system and lend their support to the elites.
There is nothing about equality in these discussions—then or now. (In fact, equality is often depicted as somehow un-American.) But equality, or the more equal distribution of wealth, is what allows the middle class to exist and the American dream to be anything more than a cruel illusion. Without equality, wealth concentrates among the elites. The economy and society become more and more unstable.
What protects the elites from the masses? The bones thrown to the masses in the form of a middle class, the promise that you too can acquire some wealth. America, after all, is the land of opportunity, right?
What happens when the middle class is no longer there to be a buffer between the haves-all and the have-nots?