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.
The 2016 election of Donald 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." Yet, his administration's economic policies made it hard for those without college degrees to get ahead, no matter how hard they worked. Little has changed.
- 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 behind the headlines.
Colin McEnroe and Cat Pastor contributed to this show, which originally aired October 8, 2020.