Now that the conventions are over and the City of Philadelphia is busy cleaning up after the Democratic Party (as the City of Cleveland had to last week after the Republican Party), it might be worthwhile to consider the epic contest for the presidency in terms of contrasts. But for the moment, let’s not consider contrasts between the two parties’ standard bearers. Let’s consider the contrasts between them and the American public.
To note contrasts is not necessarily to criticize. Some of the contrasts I’m about to lay out are what one would expect, given that we are talking about a competition for the highest elected office in the country. Those who now stand close to that responsibility are likely to be distinctive in some ways from the public they seek to lead and serve.
At the same time, these contrasts are worth remembering. Our life experiences frequently define our understanding of the nature of life and its struggles.
Our individual experiences tune us like a piano string to vibrate in a particular and distinctive way when certain life notes are struck. That is as true of our candidates as it is for the rest of us. So it is worth considering the relative pitch of our candidates and of the rest of the strings that make up the guts of the 88 keys of American life.
For openers, the median age of the nominees and their running mates is 63. The median age of adult Americans is somewhere between 45 and 49. In the language of demographers, that makes all of our candidates Baby Boomers. The “typical” adult American, however, is Gen X and the largest living generation is the Millennial generation.
That simply means those notions of life and society that were inculcated into our nominees in childhood and youth are different than those of the majority of adult Americans . . . something they would do well to remember.
Then there’s educational attainment.
All of our nominees have bachelor’s degrees; three (all but Trump) also have law degrees.
Among the adult U.S. population (25 and older), just one in three has at least a bachelor’s degree. Only 12% have an advanced degree.
Then there is economic status.
Determining the candidates’ net worth is complicated, for reasons as unique as each of the candidates. But here’s my best guess (in alphabetical order), together with the supporting source:
- The Hillary Clinton household – $16 million
- The Kaine household – Between $650,000 and $1.9 million
- The Pence household – Around $300,000
- The Trump household – Between $4.5 billion and $10 billion
What’s the typical net worth of a contemporary American household? As of 2013, it was $56,335. Yes, that’s wealth, not income. That includes all assets, like a house, and all liabilities, like a mortgage.
And that difference, perhaps more than the others, should give our candidates pause. Even Governor Pence, the least wealthy of these candidates, has more than five times the assets of the typical American household. Sudden income loss or unanticipated expenses would quickly consume the assets of most American families. For our candidates . . . they, at least, would have a little time (or quite a lot) before the wolf was at the door.
That’s not criticism, remember. It’s just to make a point, one perhaps as valid for many of us, dear Reader, as for our candidates.
They (and we) cannot assume that our life experiences teach us anything about what the typical American’s life experience is like. The diversity of generational formation, educational attainment and wealth in this country is vast, the differences in how we see the world and its challenges and opportunities equally so.
To lead a people this diverse (and we haven’t even touched on gender, race or ethnicity, let alone a host of other important differences), one must seek out new perspectives, all the time, as aggressively as our nominees will be seeking our votes. The American life doesn’t look just like my life, or your life, or any of the nominees’ lives, or, indeed, any individual’s life.
It looks like America . . . all 88 keys of her . . . and those who love her can take a lifetime appreciating the music she makes.