You don’t hear the term “the American Dream” much anymore. I used to hear it a lot. I looked it up on Wikipedia the other day, and found this:
The American Dream is a national ethos of the United States, the set of ideals (Democracy, Rights, Liberty, Opportunity, and Equality) in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility for the family a
nd children, achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers. In the definition of the American Dream by James Truslow Adams in 1931, “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 is rooted in the Declaration of Independence, which proclaims that “all men are created equal” with the right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
I suspect the reason I don’t hear about it much these days is because it has proven to be a hollow promise for so many Americans. The promise is that anyone with at least average intelligence and a willingness to work hard can better himself and his family economically and socially; irrespective of race or religion. This has been true in some periods of our history, at least for white folk. Not so true in other periods, and not usually for people of color. Perhaps it will be true again someday, maybe for even more people (say, people of color). But we are not living in one of those periods.
Today the number one predictor of economic and social improvement is the zip code you grew up in. Grow up in the right zip code, and you have a pretty good shot at the American Dream; grow up in any other zip code, and it’s a long shot at best. I’m not trying to beat up on America here. I believe this American Dream is still an aspiration baked right into the American character, and that gives me hope that we can and will be better than we have sometimes been. The key is to steadfastly refuse to let go of the Dream, to steadfastly insist that it can happen and that we will make it happen.
There is another kind of American Dream. It is the same dream, but seen from another side. It is the dream of a nation where liberty and equality and freedom of choice are the law of the land. It is a dream of a nation that offers hope in place of despair; that offers peace in place of war; that offers life in place of death. It is a dream of a bright light shining in the a dark world. Many see that light and feel its call, and they come.
In 1886, in New York Harbor, a colossus was constructed. It was a gift from the French people, who have always looked on America as that bright light of liberty shining in the dark. It is the first thing many immigrants in the 20th century saw as they approached our shores. The Statue of Liberty has several inscriptions engraved on its various surfaces. The most well known is a poem written by Emma Lazarus:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
This too is the American Dream.
I seems to me that with the 2016 election, we stand at a crossroad. Democrats and Republicans alike agree that we cannot have wide open borders. There are just too many “huddled masses yearning to breath free.” But we can accept a lot of them; especially refugees who are fleeing truly horrendous situations and who have nowhere else to go (I think of Syrian refugees, for example). What we need is comprehensive immigration reform; a new immigration policy; a 21st century immigration policy.
I hope we can accomplish this, because if we can’t, we may need to take down that statue in New York City’s Harbor, and admit that the American Dream is dead, and it is our generation that let it die. Think about this when you cast your ballot.
As always, thank you for taking the time to read my blog. Comments are welcome.