The American Dream Dead or Alive: Defining Our Future & Reviving Our Soul

Posted on September 28, 2016 by

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By Michael C. Seidel

The American Dream can be traced to the founding of this exceptional human experiment ‘We The People’ have culminated over the last 238 years in the greatest Union ever formed in history. The man that gave us electricity, bifocals, fire departments, and countless other inspirational gadgets, innovations, and passions also paved the way for the enlightenment of the American Dream. Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography  first gave people the faith they needed to lift themselves up with personal responsibility, intellectual curiosity, honesty, persistence, and thrift; to engage in entrepreneurship which evokes an environment of creativity, cooperation, and hope. Although Franklin paved the way for the enlightenment coupled with the definition of what the American Dream would evolve into The Dream itself is deeply rooted in the Declaration of Independence which states that “All men are created equal…” with the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This foundation not only of our Dream as a people but our principle as a society must make US post-industrial, postmodern, 21st century citizens of this utopian union of 50 great states beg the question, has the dream died, is there such a thing as success and fulfillment in postmodern America?

The modern definition of the American Dream was popularized in 1931 by author and American historian James Truslow Adams in his Book American Epic in which he states:

“life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” regardless of social class or circumstances of birth. (“The American dream, that has lured tens of millions of all nations to our shores in the past century has not been a dream of merely material plenty, though that has doubtlessly counted heavily. It has been much more than that. It has been a dream of being able to grow to fullest development as man and woman, unhampered by the barriers which had slowly been erected in the older civilizations, unrepressed by social orders which had developed for the benefit of classes rather than for the simple human being of any and every class.”)

 The 2016 election is the redefinition of this foundational principle, belief, and ideal in American Culture as we know it today. The two candidates that are running have very different views on how the means to this end (the dream) can be achieved. I attest that in the simplest form possible the American Dream today is to simply to be middle class. (The social group between the upper and working classes, including professional and business workers and their families.) If we are to believe Adams, Franklin, or the Declaration of Independence this dream is to be classless based on merit, hard work, innovation, and equal opportunity. However it seems that in modern America we can’t talk about anything without class being part of political rhetoric, economic plans, and the achievement of equity. In this article I will analyse the two different approaches to reinvent the American Dream by each candidate, one by encouraging a wealthier unregulated bourgeoisie to uplift the proletariat via investment, nationalism, and exceptionalism, the other by encouraging an environment of cooperation, equity, and globalization. The Dream is not dead, but the old dream of Franklin we have known may die in this election as the shift in our economy, causing inequality has become systemic and ideological ever present since the death of the New Deal, exacerbated by Reaganomics.

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Make America Great Again is the slogan of Donald J. Trump’s campaign, he more so than Hillary Clinton invokes the rhetoric of the good ol’ American Dream, hard work will lift you up to be rich like him. Trumps website cites the decline in the workforce since the 1970’s as well as the growth in poverty (especially those in ‘bad neighborhoods’) and among non-anglo citizens. His economic plan is to reduce taxes to create growth so that growth can then be reinvested in the economy to create jobs as well as revive the manufacturing sector via aggressive nationalisation, deglobalization, isolation from trade partners as well as negotiating ‘fair’ trade deals. This version of the American Dream is based in class, the rich get richer while the poor get fundamentally poorer as has been proven since the decline in taxes since the early 1970’s. This view that you can work your way out of poverty or be who you define yourself to be without equal opportunity or without due process of institutional regulation coupled with a free global market to then sell your goods is simply been proven false, yet only the false pretense of being the ideal of what the American Dream is gives this argument authentication. In fact this theory directly condescends innovation, cooperation, encouraged by the free market but rather has created a plutocracy, corpocracy, and elitist bourgeoisie class with unruly influence over most Americans by being empowered employers or influential political backers.

On the other hand we have Hillary Clinton who promises to empower the middle class not through tax cuts or incentives but a equalization in opportunity. Clinton wants less debt for school, each child to have the same chance at quality education, healthcare, and a living wage for those in the lowest ranks of society. As well she has outlined a vision for the future of America, a green economy, leading the world in technology, as well as global cooperation to encourage growth and innovation by persons and businesses alike. In this system with equity, can a man or woman truly follow his life, liberty and pursue the utmost happiness. This is the true American Dream, that of Franklin, Adams, and outlined in our founding document The Declaration of Independance. It is up to US the people to define our American Dream, it is not just a dream but the soul of our nation the idea for which we stand. The Statue of Liberty was the symbol of that dream to the world, peoples from across the globe aspired to be American and sail to New York Harbor to sign their name at Ellis Island, now we are going to build a wall across our border, isolate from the global stage and engage in acts of discrimination to save the American Dream?

I ask you to remember what the American Dream is, not the fallacy presented as fear. As the Great Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said “I Have A Dream Deeply Rooted in the American Dream.” Is your dream that of Franklin, King, and Adams or the new American Dream of Luxury, Material, and Prosperity for the few over the masses?

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