In Parts I through III, I summarized how our educational system was designed to advance less than a third of our population toward a bachelor’s degree and that the economic consequences for those without a bachelor’s degree were significant. Beginning in the 1970s, not only were the economic opportunities for less educated citizens more scarce, but the wages for these lower-level jobs stagnated, debt mounted, and the disparities between the wealthy and the poor exploded. And from this economic and social context grew a sense of displacement among the white working class and a growing hostility toward the “other.”
How does one get beyond the surface events to the underlying dis-eases that flow, capillary-like, through the body of the collective? One counter-intuitive approach, highlighted under the general academic umbrella of sense-making, is to observe an extreme example of an attitude or belief and then trace it to its more conventional contexts.
The example I will use involves an independent candidate’s campaign for congressional office in Tennessee in June 2016. The candidate, Rick Tyler, running for the 3rd Congressional District, posted signs reading “Make America White Again” and a second poster, which had an image of the U.S. Capitol surrounded by Confederate flags with the caption “I Have a Dream.” He defended his strategy by saying he thought there was nothing hateful about the campaign posters; he was only being “provocative.”