Foreword

Too many Americans feel that Washington has turned its back on them. They know they work hard, and they believe that anyone who works hard in America deserves to earn a stable middle-class life—at least. Whether you’re a Democrat, independent, or Republican, you need to understand the depth of the anger that is driving American politics today. And you need to understand the reason for that anger.

I grew up in Pittsburgh, in a traditional blue-collar family. My dad did car upholstery—he didn’t love it, but it supported the family. My parents scrimped to save money, but we always had the basics: a house, a car that worked. My parents worked hard, and their hard work paid off. They took pride in their work ethic and their ability to persevere.

Joan Williams’s book is truly enlightening. It describes the values I was raised with: self-reliance, hard work, stability, and straight talk. It also answers the questions many people have been asking about the so-called white working class since Trump was elected in 2016. (They’re the middle class, by the way.) Why are they so angry? Why is so much of their anger focused on government? Why don’t they just move to where the jobs are? Why don’t they get their act together and go to college? Joan Williams answers these questions and more.

Most important, she shows that Americans want a country where hard work pays off. They will collect government benefits or go on disability—if that’s what they need to do to support their families. But that’s not what they want. They want what my parents had: the ability to work hard and create a stable family life.

When I was in high school and still trying to figure out if and how I could afford to go to college, my mom recommended that I learn how to lay carpet, because she was concerned about my future. Her goal was not that I find fulfillment but that I find stability—the kind of stability that has become so elusive in the era of closed-down factories, abandoned Main Streets, and the opioid epidemic. It turned out I wasn’t very good with carpet but did have a knack for starting technology businesses. But here’s the fact: not everyone is an entrepreneur, and not everyone has a direct path to a job that can pay their bills.

As much as I believe that the American dream is alive and well, my experience in business has taught me that not everyone lives in a situation conducive to chasing that dream that so many of us have taken for granted.

I’ve been in situations where I’ve come home to find my utilities turned off. Where I didn’t have money to pay for health care and, even worse, had to go to a dental clinic where student dentists botched my root canal—and then their efforts to fix their mistakes made it even worse. I have written checks and then scrambled to figure out how to cover them before they bounced. But I was fortunate: I only had to take care of myself. I didn’t have to worry about a spouse or children or providing for others in my family. I was able to move to Dallas, living with five roommates in a three-bedroom apartment, and get a bartending job at night and a sales job during the day, which allowed me to get my head above water.

Today, most people don’t have the luxury of mobility. They are reluctant to move for a better job because that’s very risky in their world. They stick close to home because a small network of family and friends they’ve known forever sustains them both economically and emotionally. That network provides child care, elder care, help fixing the car—necessities of life they can’t take for granted. Equally important, that network offers blue-collar families something not on offer from their less-than-prestigious jobs: respect.

I’ve been at the top, among the 1 percent that are truly financially blessed. And I’ve been at the bottom. Broke. Scrambling to make ends meet.

Anyone who’s willing to get up every day, and show up and work hard—that person has my respect. Disrespect breeds anger, and anger distorts politics. Treating working-class people with the respect they deserve is not a partisan issue. Making sure that hard work pays off in America is not a partisan issue.

Our politics are being driven by middle-class people’s fear of falling into poverty. We need to stop scolding people for being afraid, or for expressing their fears the wrong way. We need to listen to them. In this book, Joan Williams does just that. She gives a voice to those who get up every day and do their best, and she lets them explain how American politics got to where it is today.

Their voices will open your eyes—and hopefully your heart and mind as well.

Mark Cuban

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