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July 10, 2019 11:00 amComments are Disabled

I just finished Dignity by Chris Arnade and it tells the story that no one in America wants to hear but everyone needs to hear: the story of the true divide in our country, between people whose lives are upwardly mobile and have hope, and people who aren’t, and don’t. Most of all, it tells the story of how our attempts to fix the problems of the forgotten ‘back row’ of American life are perceived by the people they are trying to help: as condescending, elitist, and often exasperating of these problems.

Contrasting the bickering of the political class on either side of the aisle with the real, lived struggle of millions of people, Arnade holds a mirror up to the society that many of us are so fortunate to be a part of — we ‘front row’ elite, who live in New York City and San Francisco and Los Angeles and Chicago and Austin and DC, who work in politics and law and medicine and tech, make decisions that affect the lives of millions of people every day, and have almost no awareness of how these decisions actually impact people beyond statistics. And what’s more, we often presume to know what’s best for people without talking to them or understanding them.

Arnade does not make the book about politics, although he easily could have (he does interview people about the 2016 race when it was happening, but it’s in a broader context rather than the main point). He explicitly says that the book is not about ‘how we got Trump’ or any attempt to diagnose populism, although it’s hard not to read between the lines and see the connection. Really, it’s just a book about people from all over the country—in big cities and small towns, of every race and age—who all share one thing in common: they have been left behind.

Books like this are important because they don’t attempt to create solutions—this book has no solutions—but instead, hold a mirror to our own hypocrisy about poverty and spur us to take action.

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