We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
It is a most attractive proposition. It sounds like Utopia. It sounds too good to be true. It is.
America has a class structure. But it is different from the long established aristocratic familial one in Britain. At the time of the Declaration, most white affluent men owned slaves who were never accredited the title of "Man" written by their masters. Women were disenfranchised and powerless. The poor immigrants from Ireland were kept one step away from slavery by the nature of their skin. Thomas Paine's idealism bore little relation to the class structure of the New States of America of his day and the acknowledgement of every man being created 'equal' came also with an equally large blind spot. Its a stirring message in theory, full of hope and value but in practice it has never been fully applied.
In America there are still the upper class that [pay to?] go to the vaulted Ivy Leagues of Harvard and Yale. There they find there is a commonly accepted and even encouraged means of solidifying such class structure - the Greek System of Fraternities and Sororities. When I first came to this country I was dumbstruck by such institutions. Here were these students voluntarily joining "houses" where they lived like they were at a private boarding school in Britain - only with alcohol thrown in for good (or bad) measure.
They have "rush" week where freshmen attend parties where they are tempted by the lure of each house and then vetted by each house until they are finally accepted or rejected. The general means used for vetting? Who they are! What does their father do? How much does he earn? Which school did they go to? What is their major and how much are they likely to make after graduating? And is she still a virgin or at least has she been faithful and pure towards her high school sweetheart?
Acceptance then means the ushering of a degree of hazing. All Frats and Sororities claim they have outlawed such behaviour but it persists. New members are made to perform demeaning and degrading tasks for senior members. Their desire to be part of this exclusive club is tested to the very limit. After all this is how to win friends and influence people. This will be the social network that will guarantee your career. This will solidify your place in the class structure. This will even help you find a perfect mate for a future perfect family. This is clear because this is what your father and/or mother did so before you.
Amongst this upper class are the WASPs. This stands for White Anglo Saxon Protestants. They are a group at the high end of American society that have held onto power and privilege since they arrived by boat in the 18th or 19th centuries. This breed can mostly be found in such states as Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and Delaware.
Then there are the family dynasties. The oil rich Bushes. The bootlegging Kennedys.
For all the talk of freedom that abounds in this country everyone knows their place and generally stays there.
But there are the exceptions. This is where I perceive America as different. Only in this country could a poor peanut farmer from Georgia become the 39th President of the wealthiest nation on earth. Only in this country can a poor black girl from the ghetto rise to the top to become her own brand of "O". Only in this country can new money be spent as old resulting in the perpetual fantasy of the lower classes: the American Dream.
I believe it is this dream that keeps America's class structure in check. Why would you revolt against the rich when you hold onto the dream that you too can join their ranks? The upper classes let the occasional Donald or Martha into their exclusive club in order to let the others see from below the glass ceiling that they should tow the line, behave, because they never know when they may be given the key to the golden elevator of upward social mobility.
I think that the American class structure is so very sad for this very fact. The belief that riches are but a dream away placates so many from taking issue with a system that shuts them out.
But as with everything in this country there is also another side and its what I love about this country. For all the people adhering to the system there are others who do not. The Amish, the Mennonite, the Mormons all step outside the mainstream culture that slices society into class. There are people who pioneer outside the boundaries in a progressive activism of thinking and living outside of class. There are the vibrant and varied Gay communities in every American city with San Fransisco and New York leading the way. There are right wing and left wing anti-government types who hanker after the days when not every state was under the federal United States government. And then there are always the crazies. The ugly men dressed as women in South Beach, the freewheeling eternal backpackers and hitchhikers and those who provide fodder for shows on crazy lifestyles or crazy homes for a sleek coffee table book.
America has a class structure that can and does determine a great deal in regards to upward mobility and professional success. But America still retains that glow of the Romantic ideal, the image I was fed growing up, where some individuals step outside that structure and operate in their own way be it for religious, political, ethical, environmental or crazy reasons.
I can never pin this place down.