Much has been made of late, of the American Dream. MoveOn.org has a program to restore it. American Family Insurance has a competitive advertising campaign to profit from it. But what is it? James Truslow Adams encapsulated the rather nebulous and often unattainable concept in a 1931 definition, where he described a life which would be “better and richer and fuller for everyone” regardless of birth. His concept created an ideal of home, family, and decent employment for generations of Americans, most poignantly exemplified by the experience of the World War II generation and their progeny, the baby boomers. It was assumed that the American Dream began with ‘The Pilgrims’ and grew in a linear path until the present. All American school children in the nineteen fifties were indoctrinated with this mythos. Realities like a civil war, union busting, and grange wars were glossed over by romanticism or simply ignored. Atrocities performed by the very people referred to as Pilgrims against the indigenous American population were denied. Blackboards in American public schools were surrounded at nineteen fifties Thanksgiving time, with illustrations of smiling Pilgrims in their familiar hats and Elizabethan collars, and happy, helpful Indians, oftentimes, feasting together; one big happy family.
Dr. Martin Luther King had a dream. It began when he and Dr. Frank Abernathy joined Rosa Parks in her quest for social justice. Their dream was simply equality for a people who had once been slaves; an end to separate water fountains and restrooms, creating a world where all people could eat at the same lunch counter. Cesar Chavez dreamed of better working conditions for the people who planted and harvested crops responsible for feeding an entire population. Was this dream realized by the millions of citizens of Japanese descent, who were rounded up and placed in internment camps?
Why do we cling to a manufactured mythos? Must we reinvent our strife filled history, to lull our troubled and guilty group psyche into a narcotized slumber? Rather than debate an abstract concept, which a majority of Americans have failed to achieve, we should strive to accomplish a new reality, devoid of false assumptions, accept our shortcomings as a people, and work together. Specific, concrete goals must push aside the prior fable. Replace “Hands Off The American Dream!” with “Bring Back The New Deal!” Our infrastructure is crumbling and we have armies of homeless. Reinstate the WPA and CCC. Out of country, cold war era, military bases abound, sucking trillions into their needless budgets, as do two undeclared wars. Close them. End the wars. Bring all personnel home. If inflated unemployment figures from returned veterans are a fearsome spectre, deploy their numbers into the same infrastructure projects. Rebuild our roads and bridges. Restore decaying buildings. Reclaim our national parks. Build a national system of high speed rail. Actions such as this would create new employment, infusing monies into the consumer driven US economy. By relying less on air travel and transport, fuel would be conserved and pollution would diminish. Future generations would not be strapped with repairing and replacing structures which the present generation has allowed to fall into decay. The only impediment to this is the lack of profit to be made by the wealthiest two percent of Americans, who typically make their vast fortunes from oil and related products. These are the same people keeping the false concept of an ‘American Dream’ alive. It is incumbent upon the other ninety eight percent of Americans to make the return of the New Deal a reality.