The populist backlash that led to the election of President Trump was decades in the making. Like other populist leaders around the world, Trump gave voice to the resentment directed toward “elites” who devalue the hard work and dignity of workers without college degrees.
Ronald Reagan was the first president to tell every American they could "go just as far as their dreams and hard work will take them." He used those words to enact policies that led to economic inequality and a global economy that advantaged a professional class over those without college degrees. These policies were continued by subsequent administrations, regardless of party.
Americans like to believe we live in a meritocracy but the odds are stacked in favor of the already lucky and fortunate. We congratulate the "winners" and humiliate the "losers," who are told to better themselves or carry the burden of their failure.
- Michael Sandel teaches philosophy at Harvard University. His most recent book is The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good? His BBC Radio 4 series “The Public Philosopher,” explores the philosophical ideas lying behind the headlines.
Colin McEnroe and Cat Pastor contributed to this show.