The American democracy and dream are the building of castles in air

Lewis Lapham in Lapham's Quarterly:

RiberoLet the proofs of prosperity appear in only one neck of the woods, the tide coming in for the rich, going out for everybody else, and the notion of home acquires first- and second-class meanings: habitation for human beings and housing for money. The advertising of the nation’s ideal shifts from the little house on the prairie to the brochure selling apartments in Donald Trump’s Fifth Avenue tower of glass—“Elegant. Sophisticated. Strictly beau monde…Your diamond in the sky. It seems a fantasy.” As did the grotesque spectacle of the mogul’s 2016 presidential campaign. As is the Potemkin village democracy that nowadays fronts the owning and operating of America the beautiful by the combination of financial, real estate, media, and government interests that stand and serve as the nation’s landlord. The teardown of the democratic idea, a slum-clearance project in development for the past thirty years, prepared the ground for Trump’s boasting of his escape from $916 million in taxes while elsewhere in the news it was reported that in no state in the Union can a full-time minimum-wage worker afford to buy or rent a two-bedroom dwelling; that the home-ownership rate has dropped to its lowest level in the past fifty years; that the typical American household holds a net worth 14 percent lower than it did in 1984; that 62,000 homeless people roam the streets of New York City, their number larger than at any time since the 1930s Great Depression.

…Things haven’t worked out as well for the democratically endowed dreamers of the American dream floating on the rising tide of prosperity in the boom years subsequent to the Second World War. By the late 1970s, the boom was losing momentum, and so was the affordable credit. Which is to say, as did Henrik Ibsen in 1879, “Home life ceases to be free and beautiful as soon as it is founded on borrowing and debt.” Ceases to be free and beautiful for the occupant of the lived-in human space, not for the absentee owners of the price of the thing (corporation, insurance company, bank) who retain title to the property free and clear of its human flotsam and jetsam.

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