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How We Came To Be In The Middle: A Story Of Class

Part of the series Living In The Middle

Nicholas von Hoffman's latest book is Radical: A Portrait of Saul Alinsky

No doubt about it, you are in the middle class. In all of the United States there are no more than a dozen or so celebrity billionaires who have failed to achieve middle-class status -- Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, Warren Buffett, George Soros and that kid they made the Facebook movie about. He has been kicked out of the middle class and must spend the rest of his life with the likes of Steve Jobs and Oprah Winfrey.

We used to have lots of social classes back in the days when most of us were some kind of lower class. Low-lower class, which was the pits; upper-lower class, which was good; or just regular lower class. Parents worked to enable their children to go class-crawling so as to get as close to the middle class as they could.

In that era you also had your upper-middle class and your lower-upper class and off on the side were the collar classes, white and blue. That's gone now, all of it.

What happened was that the people in the lower orders got looked down on, which weakened their self-esteem. At the same time there was class warfare against the people in the higher altitudes, which made them afraid that they might get their money taken away.

So there came a time of great wiggling, writhing and squirming as the lower-class people eked their way up to middle-class respectability and the upper-class people slithered down into the camouflage of middle-class anonymity.

Up in heaven, the Founding Parents looked down on the new, one-class America and pronounced it equal. Which is good. But Abraham Lincoln, who had made his way up to heaven later than the founders, warned them that a nation undivided cannot long endure. The Founding Parents spared the country from such a fatal condition by inventing demographics and sending it down to us.

In so doing he preserved the unity of single classedness even as the population was minced into scores of social grouplettes: white suburban girls, ages 2 to 4; inner-city Hispanic gay males, ages 45 to 60; college graduates of Finnish extraction, ages 18 to 30.

So here are the homeless ensconced in the middle class alongside you and me and the no-name millionaires. All together, all equal, all the same (except some are rich and some are broke), all middle-middle and all riven with newfound, demographic distinctions. But that's OK because it's not class, it's demographics, which is very classy.

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