“This election will decide whether we save the American dream,” Trump said while accepting the Republican nomination for president on the final night of the Republican National Convention. “Or whether we allow a socialist agenda to demolish our cherished destiny.”
Speaker after speaker repeated the same message: Trump is the only candidate who can save the American dream, Democrats’ insistence on expanding the social safety net will stymie individuals’ opportunities, and Republicans are the party of dreaming big.
“Let me assure you, socialism doesn’t offer opportunity. Socialism deprives,” Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez said on the second night of the convention. “We can go down a dark road of chaos and government control, or we can choose the path of freedom and opportunity that was paved by those who sacrificed everything to preserve the American dream for future generations.”
But for many working Americans, policies under the Trump administration and Trump’s response to the pandemic have put the American dream further out of reach.
Trump’s message that he’s the savior of the American dream comes as the nation is in the middle of a widespread coronavirus outbreak, which public health experts and a vast majority of Americans say was worsened by Trump’s slow response. Unemployment sits at 10 percent, and the economy’s recovery has slowed over the summer months. Federal aid, which economists say kept upwards of 10 million people out of poverty, has been slashed or cut completely, as Republicans remain reluctant to continue unemployment benefits at the same levels.
Even before the pandemic hit and the economy appeared to be doing fine, Americans were dubious that there was an equality of opportunity afforded to everyone under Trump’s leadership.
In a January Pew Research Center survey, 70% of Americans said the economy was rigged in favor of the wealthy. There are partisan divides in the poll, with Republicans generally seeing the economy under Trump as fairer than Democrats do. But notably, 79% of lower-income Republicans said the wealthy had too much power today, and Democrats and Republicans agreed that small businesses were being overtaken by major corporations.
Polling on the attainability of the American dream fluctuates largely by demographic. Republicans tend to view the American dream more positively than Democrats, and higher-income Americans are much more likely than lower-income Americans to see it as attainable, regardless of party. Younger Americans are a lot less hopeful than older Americans, and white Americans see more opportunity than Black Americans. But in all, a majority of Americans still believe in the idea that hard work will be rewarded in the American economy, both before the pandemic and during it.
Trump has enjoyed an economic upswing for most of his first term in office. That period of economic growth, however, was not reflected in the experiences of the average worker. Wages remained stagnant despite free-market theories that low unemployment numbers would increase workers’ compensation.
Republicans’ 2017 tax cuts were the party’s landmark policy around this issue. Trump promised the cuts would lead companies to give “billions and billions of dollars away to their workers” — but they didn’t. One study from the left-leaning think tank Economic Policy Institute, a year after the tax bill was passed, found the tax bill’s bonuses only resulted in an average 1 cent hourly raise for workers. In the years that followed, companies have mostly spent their windfall buying back shares, boosting stock prices for executives and wealthy shareholders.
The Trump administration has also come under fire for its handling of student loan oversight, which Democrats contend is too lenient on fraudulent and misleading loan servicers and costing graduates tens of thousands of dollars. Student Debt Crisis, a group that advocates for canceling student loans, has sued the Department of Education for failing to properly regulate loan servicers. The United States has a $1.5 trillion federal student debt portfolio, which has been attributed to young Americans buying fewer homes.
Some of these are trends that have persisted for decades — like widening income inequality and growing student debt. Others, like a lack of student loan oversight and tax cuts for wealthy Americans, are direct results of the Trump administration’s policies. And then there’s the continuing coronavirus pandemic, relief for which remains stymied.
Participation in the labor market remains low. Unemployment claims remain just about seven times higher than pre-COVID levels. Ernie Tedeschi, an economist from Evercore, pointed out on Twitter that monthly compensation fell for American households by $574 between February and July — a loss in income that was fully offset by the now-expired $600 weekly federal unemployment insurance benefit. Since that benefit expired, job growth has been “tepid,” and job search hasn’t shown any signs of increasing, Tedeschi said. The federal protections against some evictions during the pandemic have also expired, leaving renters to rely on the different policies between state and local governments.
Trump’s economic approval ratings have slipped during the pandemic, but they have proven relatively stable compared to past presidents seeking reelection. He sits at the same levels Barack Obama and George W. Bush saw leading up to their second terms.
However, both liberal and conservative economists are warning that the COVID-19 crisis will have lasting effects.
Republicans and the Trump White House were against continuing the $600 weekly unemployment insurance benefit that Congress passed in spring, arguing that the federal benefit disincentivizes people from getting back to work. Congress failed to reach a compromise aid package after the benefit expired, prompting Trump to sign an executive order for a smaller $300 benefit allocated to states through a grant program. That money still hasn’t reached most unemployed Americans’ pockets. They’ve also argued against giving states funding to balance their budgets during the outbreak.
At the Republican convention, giving financial aid to those forced to stay home during the pandemic was seen as Biden’s plan to destroy the American dream.
“Joe Biden wants to keep them locked up in the basement and crush them with $4 trillion in new taxes,” Rep. Elise Stefanik said of Americans on Wednesday night. “Now we face a critical choice: Joe Biden’s far-left socialist policies that will weaken America or President Trump who will stand up for the American people and the Constitution. I believe in the wisdom and spirit of the American people to elect the only candidate who is capable of protecting the American dream, President Trump.”
Calling all HuffPost superfans!
Sign up for membership to become a founding member and help shape HuffPost’s next chapter