poverty

How Donald Trump Filled the Dignity Deficit

There is indeed a gap in this country, and it has now led to a political revolution, a significant realignment in American politics. But the relevant gap wasn’t income. It was dignity.

Too many Americans have lost pride in themselves. We sense dignity by creating value with our lives, through families, communities, and especially work. That is why American leaders so frequently talk about dignity in the context of labor. As Martin Luther King Jr. taught, “All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” Conversely, nothing destroys dignity more than idleness and a sense of superfluousness—the feeling that one is simply not needed.

Most economists predicted that policies built on Mr. Trump’s anti-immigration and antitrade rhetoric would hardly help unemployed, working-class people in places like Kentucky and West Virginia. But where these experts heard incoherent specifics, many voters heard a consistent deeper theme: A promise to work hard at restoring left-behind Americans’ dignity by bringing back jobs and striking back at the cultural elites who disdain them.

This story is not merely crucial for understanding this extraordinary election. It is also the lodestar for cultural renewal and better politics, no matter one’s place on the ideological spectrum. Leaders on both sides will likely take issue with some parts of Mr. Trump’s agenda. But all must contend with the central reality he has unearthed—the hunger for dignity in communities where it is most absent.

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