James B. Meigs, in City Journal, describes the way Progressive generosity tends to penalize good conduct and playing by the rules. Relaxation of standards and selective release from conventional obligations of democrat constituencies that complain, he predicts, inevitably infuriates salt of the earth ordinary Americans who earned everything they have and who accept the world as it is without claiming victim status.
Last January, a small but telling exchange took place at an Elizabeth Warren campaign event in Grimes, Iowa. At the time, Warren was attracting support from the Democratic Partyâ€™s left flank, with her bulging portfolio of progressive proposals. â€œWarren Has a Plan for Thatâ€ read her campaign T-shirts. The biggest buzz surrounded her $1.25 trillion plan to pay off student-loan debt for most Americans.
A man approached Warren with a question. â€œMy daughter is getting out of school. Iâ€™ve saved all my money [so that] she doesnâ€™t have any student loans. Am I going to get my money back?â€
â€œOf course not,â€ Warren replied.
â€œSo youâ€™re going to pay for people who didnâ€™t save any money, and those of us who did the right thing get screwed?â€
A video of the exchange went viral. It summed up the frustration many feel over the way progressive policies so often benefit select groups, while subtly undermining others. Saving money to send your children to college used to be considered a hallmark of middle-class responsibility. By subsidizing people who run up large debts, Warrenâ€™s policy would penalize those who took that responsibility seriously. â€œYouâ€™re laughing at me,â€ the man said, when Warren seemed to wave off his concerns. â€œThatâ€™s exactly what youâ€™re doing. We did the right thing and we get screwed.â€
That father was expressing an emotion growing more common these days: he felt like a chump. Feeling like a chump doesnâ€™t just mean being upset that your taxes are rising or annoyed that youâ€™re missing out on some windfall. Itâ€™s more visceral than that. People feel like chumps when they believe that theyâ€™ve played a game by the rules, only to discover that the game is rigged. Not only are they losing, they realize, but their good sportsmanship is being exploited. The players flouting the rules are the ones who get the trophy. Like that Iowa dad, the chumps of modern America feel that the life choices theyâ€™re most proud ofâ€”working hard, taking care of their families, being good citizensâ€”arenâ€™t just undervalued, but scorned.