When the popular mindset switches from trying to accommodate others to advancing the self, people's pursuits resemble one or another kind of a get-rich-quick scheme. (Or get famous quick, or get fashionable quick, or get erudite quick, etc. if they are pursuing non-financial status contests.)
One consequence of restless ambition is leaving behind the place where you have roots to head off for greener pastures. Aside from your own neck of the woods not being the most likely place to dominate some career, strivers are drawn to places where they won't be recognized by those they're aiming to profit from. Everyone back home may know you're the used car salesman type, but not the naive folks who just met you yesterday. They must also want a place where shame cannot be brought down upon them — talk about a major brake on doing whatever it takes. Shame only stings when it comes from those who you're tied to deep down — some transplant could give a shit if his adoptive community tried to shame him.
And of course, it's not just the politicians but the potential voters who are more likely to be transplants in status-striving times. How could Colorado and Virginia vote for a liberal President? Simple: nowadays hardly anyone from Virginia is from Virginia. Transplant voters are going to be more open to a transplant politician not only because of their shared status as newcomers, but because shared values and goals have drawn them both away from their places of origin.
Climbing the corporate ladder and worshiping big business, for one thing. Or maybe the newcomers are immigrants looking to get rich quick by re-locating to America for work. Although these groups are striving within opposite poles of the class spectrum, they are guided by the same mindset nonetheless. Not to mention the natural love that profit-maximizers have for cheap immigrant labor.
I've been looking through current federal elected officials to see how rooted they are within the place whose voters elected them. I've put together the data on Senators, and am working on the Governors (members of the House of Representatives will take a lot longer to investigate). But for now, how about just looking at the highest elected official of all, President Obama?
Half of his family is not only unrooted in America but in all of Europe and broader Indo-European culture. It's rooted in Africa, and not even the part of Africa that has had some influence in America via the West African slaves. His step-father is equally unrooted in America, Europe, or Indo-European culture. Worse yet, he's not rooted in the same place that Obama Sr. is from — it's a different remote part of the world.
His mother's side is rooted around Kansas, but she went chasing after high status in the Pacific Northwest, Hawaii, and Indonesia. Indonesia goes without saying, but Hawaii is not a core American region either. He might as well have been born and raised in Guam or Puerto Rico. Hawaii was not even a full state of the union two years before he was born there. And even after it did become a state, it was full of other transplants, unlike if he'd been raised back near Wichita where his mother's family is from.
Going to college "on the mainland" doesn't root you there, anymore than it would for a Puerto Rican who left the island for college in New York.
So we have a President who is not rooted in the country he controls. It's no wonder he doesn't really seem to give a damn what happens to it, one way or another. He's not intent on laying waste to it, just wholly apathetic — "Whatever, let it burn, as long as the fire doesn't reach the golf course." It's worse to think about what his double election says about the voters — so transient themselves that they don't even recognize how foreign he is. Although they wouldn't care if they did, and might award him bonus points for being on the same wavelength.
Was there a previous time when the President was weakly rooted in this country, compared to his countrymen, perhaps having a father who came from abroad? If the link is with status-striving, then we ought to look into the long Gilded Age, from roughly 1830 to 1920.
I started with Grant, only on the basis of how corrupt his administration was. But no dice there. A few clicks later into the 1880s, and there he is — Chester A. Arthur, who assumed office after Garfield was assassinated, but who was well liked enough by the end of his term that he could have been elected to a second term, if he hadn't retired and died soon after completing his first.
Arthur's father was a man from the Ulster region in Ireland who had moved to Canada as an adult. Arthur's mother was from just across the border in Vermont. However, he did not move to America on her behalf; rather, they wed in Canada, and their first child was born there as well. Arthur's parents only moved back to America six or seven years before he was born (although at least it wasn't in Hawaii).
As a young adult, Arthur made a display of supporting the Irish nationalist cause, not unlike Obama's black political awareness that hit in young adulthood.
Both came from leading political machines of their day, Arthur from New York and Obama from Chicago.
And in one of the most uncanny passages I've read on Wikipedia, we learn that Arthur's obscure family and national origins and upbringing led many of his opponents to spread rumors about him not being a natural-born citizen, and therefore ineligible to serve as President. Plus ca change...
Certainly he was not as disconnected from American society growing up as Obama was, but Arthur's parents were also limited by the state of technology in the 1820s — no railroads traversing the country — and by the size of the American territory within which they could have traveled in pursuit of just the right spot. In the 1820s, "going west" meant out to Buffalo, not to the plains, the mountains, or the Pacific. Who knows where his family would have roamed around to, if his footloose Scotch-Irish father had a wide open continent to choose from, and affordable airfare?
And his case was still in contrast to just about every other President before him. James Buchanan and Andrew Jackson also had one or both parents who came to America from Ulster, although they were born 40 to 60 years before Arthur, when more Americans would've been recent transplants. Their presidencies fall within the long Gilded Age anyway.
In the first Gilded Age and the second, most of the carpet-bagger behavior happens below the national level, like moving from one state to another in pursuit of becoming a Senator or a Governor. The natural-born citizen requirement rules this out for nation-hopping into the Oval Office.
And yet look at how unrooted the President may still be, provided that the citizens are too busy trying to get rich quick to care about what outside loyalties their national leader may have. Hey, as long as he helps us get ours, then let him do whatever he wants on the side (see also: Bill and Monica).