In recent years, publishers have produced a veritable library of books, many of them bestsellers, purporting to describe America’s white working class. Among these works, two questions consistently rise to the fore: Why have members of the white working class so strongly supported Donald Trump and, relatedly, why does the American dream appear to be receding ever further out of their reach? Tim Carney, commentary editor for the Washington Examiner, tackles both of these questions in his new book, Alienated America.
Carney follows in the footsteps of Tocqueville, traversing communities across America, to find his answers. He discovers that the vitality of the American dream turns primarily on geography—specifically, on whether one’s neighborhood is tightly knit together by the invisible bonds of civil society. Carney reports that among the communities he investigated, the inhabitants of wealthy ones—such as Chevy Chase, Maryland—tended to have faith in the American dream, tended to enjoy robust social associations, and tended to not support Donald Trump’s presidency. In contrast, the people in the poorer communities he visited, especially those communities without strong civic ties, such as Fayette City, Pennsylvania, tended to lack confidence in America’s promises—and also tended to support our current president.