Disclaimer: This is going to be rather long and rambling, as it is a rather long and rambling topic. Furthermore, there's going to be some things that I get completely wrong, and other stuff that may not make a lot of sense. This is probably going to have to be something I come back and revisit several times to get my thoughts sorted out. There is value to getting this stuff out of my head and on paper (real or virtual), so perhaps I can make better sense out of all this over time.
Now to the subject at hand:
We are a nation of immigrants. Only 1.5% of the population identify as Native American or Alaskan Native (according to the 2000 Census), which means 98.5% of us trace our ancestry to somewhere else. Emigration from elsewhere is something that binds our majority culture together - yet it remains a controversial topic.
In musing on this, it seems to relate to a common problem throughout our society. Namely, a significant fraction of the population do not believe in the American dream - of a meritocratic society, of raising one's station in life through industry and thrift. They want instead a caste-based system of American aristocracy, something closer to feudalism, where everyone has a place in society and one's station in life is defined by one's birth.
These neo-feudalists seem to fall into two broad categories. They've both been around as long as the country has. The hereditary wealthy have always seen themselves as a superior caste, and very visibly so. While there is some movement into and out of this class, it is a long tradition in America to pit political struggles as the wealthy versus the middle class. This is not something that needs to be belabored, as it is part of everyone's consciousness.
There's another group of neo-feudalists, though - one which doesn't get as much play. These are the people who don't want to compete in life. It doesn't seem to be because they simply don't like to compete - those people are the laid back surfer dudes and stoners who are content to let everyone do their own thing and have made their own choice to be content with what they have, opting out of the whole competition scene.
No, the largest group of middle-class neo-feudalists are people who perceive themselves as losers in the competition in life. From an objective viewpoint, many of these people seem to be doing just fine - college educated, good jobs, happy families. In their own minds, however, they seem to perceive only their own limitations. Regardless of what they have actually accomplished, they feel they should have achieved so much more - and thus their accomplishments in life are merely a reminder of their shortcomings. When you're convinced that you're CEO material, a career as a middle manager is failure. Their life is a half-empty glass.
So in a very real sense, they're victims of the Great American Myth - that anyone can rise to whatever level they want to in life, if they're willing to work hard. They've worked extremely hard all their lives, and haven't gotten anywhere near where they wanted to be - and now they're feeling used and bitter. The reality is that extraordinary success in any field requires a fair amount of luck - simply being smart and working hard only takes you so far. There are an enormous number of talented actors and musicians waiting tables and driving taxicabs for a living, for example.
That's probably enough bloviation for today. I'll pick up with this thread tomorrow and try to make more sense out of it.