Report From Purple America: Donald Trump, Anger and the Diminishment of the American Dream

In the recent Republican Debate, Ohio Governor John Kasich commented that Donald Trump has struck a cord in America -- that people are angry and fed up. Since then, Trump has continued his ascent in the polls and the reality of this anger has set in.

I encountered this anger with a friend of mine, an immigrant to the United States who came legally and worked hard to achieve the American Dream, educate his children, and enable them to move forward to access jobs, success and the good life.

He told me that he, an independent, is supporting Trump. He doesn't care about party politics. He said that he loves this country because it gave him and his entire family a chance to succeed and that he wants someone who truly cares and can get something done to be the next President. He, also wants someone who cares about him.

Like Trump, my immigrant friend believes that our country is "going down," and he is angry. I've wondered for several years about the characteristics of the proverbial "angry white male." Last week, I saw him front and center in my good friend.

But his reasons for being angry and resentful surprised me. I expected that he would harp on immigration -- that he came in legally while others have not. That was barely discussed.

What he spoke about was not feeling appreciated anymore. The basis for his anger was that his employer no longer cared about the ordinary, non-executive employee who does his work -- nose to the grindstone -- but is overlooked for pay, promotion and, most significantly, appreciation.

I know that appreciation can be palpable in surprisingly small ways. Several years ago, vacuum manufacturer Dirt Devil conducted employee surveys about satisfaction on the job. The executives expected that pay would be #1 in importance. It wasn't -- appreciation was. The rank and file said that they felt appreciated because they receive a birthday card every year from the CEO.

Lack of appreciation may have hit a tipping point in America. My friend felt that this conundrum -- lack of appreciation, respect and regard -- pervades not just his company, a major corporation with more than twenty-five thousand employees, but individual Americans, as well. "People are in it only for themselves," he said. He senses -- both on the job and in communities -- that people are becoming more self-focused because they are being economically deprived, over-worked and under-appreciated. Like someone who has been abused, he feels that the abuse continues to "pay it forward" to others.

Although his feelings certainly are not survey data, actual surveys do show that workforce bullying and incivility shockingly affect 37% of the American workforce.

My friend also mirrored the sentiment that Trump, Clinton and most of the other candidates from both parties have expressed on the campaign trail -- that the middle class is teetering. In the economic recovery, the rich have gotten richer, the middle class has gotten squeezed, and the poor have gotten poorer.

Maybe coincidentally, maybe prophetically, I encountered similar sentiments during two trips last week to places I believe will become banners for both Republicans and Democrats. One is Malden Mills; the other Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.

Malden Mills made worldwide headlines in 1995 when then-CEO Aaron Feuerstein announced that he would pay full wages and benefits to his two-thousand or so employees after most of the textile mill, which manufactured Polartec, burned to the ground. Punxy, a town of sixty-two hundred, survived the purge of mining, textiles and metal working industries and reinvented itself as the "Weather Capital of the World."

In my dinner with Malden Mills icon Aaron Feuerstein, he reiterated to me that the middle class is in trouble, primarily because America has abdicated its manufacturing base, caving to business in the interest of free trade and lower wages abroad. As a result, textiles, consumer goods, call centers and other industries outsourced, and middle class American workers were thrown under the bus. He fears that businesses no longer care.

In his own company, now under new ownership, textile workers' jobs have dropped from more than two-thousand in the late 90's to seven-hundred today.

Prior to visiting with Aaron in Boston, Massachusetts, I visited Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, home of legendary groundhog Punxsutawney Phil. In 2009, I went there with a film crew to do a documentary about American values. Purple America: Dropping In, rates this model American city, measured against twelve shared values Purple America discovered from interviews of one thousand diverse Americans across the country.

The values that all communities shared were: Equality, Family, Faith, Freedom, Love and Respect, Self-expression, Community, Giving Back, The Good Life, Opportunity, Success, and Doing the Right Thing.

You can see the Punxsutawney "Dropping In" video here.

Punxsutawney scored extremely high in representing these values, taking care of one another and building community despite the economic turmoil at that time. However, since 2009, college grads have had difficulty finding jobs, employment has dropped, and the grand Pantall Hotel -- a symbol of restoration and vibrancy -- has closed. Perhaps because of the annual optimism of Groundhog Day, the good people of Punxy aren't complaining. They're sucking it up, picking up the pieces and attempting to move forward. They still believe in the promise of the American Dream.

I felt, though, that America has failed them, just as we have failed so many who are middle class and below. Based on the sentiments I mention in this article and my own observations, I believe that there is a wave of disregard among business, business leaders, and well-to-do Americans that has ignored the values that are central to the mindset and wellness of America. Foundational principals such as love and respect, equality, success and the good life that most Americans see as part of our civic grand bargain have been diminished. As a result, anger and resentment percolate.

In a few weeks in Punxsutawney, The Groundhog Club's Inner Circle will hold it's annual picnic, during which Punxsutawney Phil the groundhog will receive a dose of the "magic elixir" that enables him to live another 10 years beyond his current 124 years.

Just as with Groundhog Day, we should follow Phil's lead.

America needs a dose of magic elixir. We need to be reinvigorated -- culturally, spiritually, socially, economically -- and optimistically. We need to feel that our Spring will come! But the solutions to our issues can't just be political -- no politician has a magic bullet. Solutions must involve businesses, governments and communities, as well. Ultimately, they will require all of us to turn our anger and resentment inward, asking ourselves who we are and that ageless question, "Am I my brother's keeper?"

Muszynski is Founder of Purple America, a national initiative of Values-in-Action Foundation to re-focus the American conversation to a civil, productive and respectful dialogue around our shared values. To see America's shared values and get involved, go to www.PurpleAmerica.us
Project Love is a school-based character-development program of Values-in-Action Foundation. To see information about Project Love school programming, go to www.projectlove.org