America’s Cognitive Dissonance

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.

As Matt Yglesias says, the latest Pew survey suggests that America is increasingly “a nation of hardened class warriors.” Even among independents, large majorities think that corporations and the rich are too powerful, our economic system unfairly favors the wealthy, and Wall Street is bad for the economy. What’s more, there’s a big decline in the number of people who think hard work leads to success and a big increase in the number of people who think they’re part of the have-nots.

But I wonder how much a survey like this really tells us. Remember the old saw about American being ideologically conservative but operationally liberal? What it means is that Americans like the idea of small government and rugged individualism, but in practice we’ve shown over and over again that in real life we want safety nets, we want environmental regulations, and we want government programs of all sorts. And we’ll fight like lemmings to keep them around.

Unfortunately the Pew poll doesn’t ask enough questions to test whether the same thing is true here. But I suspect it is. Americans say the current system is unfair and favors the rich, but if you ask about specific things we could do to change that, I’ll bet support drops off dramatically. You can see some of this in the question about threats to America’s well-being. Only 56% name the power of banks and Wall Street, while 76% think the national debt is a big threat. This is not a sign of a country that’s seriously bent out of shape about growing inequality.

Sure, lots of people support modestly higher taxes on the rich, but serious reform to cut Wall Street down to size or reduce the influence of corporations and the rich? The kind that people feel strongly enough to march in the streets about or elect a Congress that agrees with them? We’re not there yet. For the moment anyway, we’re ideologically class warriors but operationally in favor of the status quo.

THE END...

of our fiscal year is Thursday, June 30, and we have a much larger fundraising gap than we can easily manage with only days left to go.

Right now is no time to come up short: If you value the hard-hitting, democracy-protecting, justice-advancing journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us keep charging as hard as we possibly can with a much-needed and much-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

THE END...

of our fiscal year is Thursday, June 30, and we have a much larger fundraising gap than we can easily manage with only days left to go.

Right now is no time to come up short: If you value the hard-hitting, democracy-protecting, justice-advancing journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us keep charging as hard as we possibly can with a much-needed and much-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate