And every historic effort to forge a democratic project has been undermined by two fundamental realities: poverty and paranoia. The persistence of poverty generates levels of despair that deepen social conflict the escalation of paranoia produces levels of distrust that reinforce cultural division. Rae is the most explosive issue in American life precisely because it forces us to confront the tragic facts of poverty and paranoia despair, and distrust. In short, a candid examination of race matters takes us to the core of the crisis of American democracy (p. 107).
The Poverty Tour provided the opportunity to meet many people who had been living paycheck to paycheck even before the economic downturn. To so quickly slide from the great middle into the underworld of the poor validated our suspicions that perhaps these citizens never really were bona fide, middle class Americans. Indeed, some economists assert that the middle class evaporated decades ago.