The American Dream is not dead; it never existed


By Alex Swanson

The American Dream, as I understand it, is the notion that anyone, including immigrants or citizens who began in destitute conditions, has an equal opportunity in achieving fiscal and social success in the United States.

Although the phrase didn’t exist until 1931 when James Truslow Adams referred to the phenomenon as such in his book “The Epic of America,” the culture of the American Dream has been present since the beginning of this country, as we currently recognize it.

Immigrants converged to this country in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with the promise of religious freedom and chances for economic prosperity.

It’s also ingrained into the politics of this country, but is perceived as an ideology that has recently faded away.

Donald Trump remarked, “The fact is, the American Dream is dead,” as he announced his presidential bid earlier this year.

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Bernie Sanders made a speech questioning oligarchic tendencies in America on the senate floor in 2014 titled “What Happened to the America Dream?”

During a speech in February, Jeb Bush asserted that the “American Dream has become a mirage.”

Indeed, many of the presidential election candidates are campaigning on the promise to reconstruct “the Dream.”

To eventually create an America in which all citizens — regardless of identity or upbringing — have equal opportunity for success would be a remarkable accomplishment.

Yet it is evident from contemporary issues like the Black Lives Matter movement, the vast achievement gap, the intensely unequal distribution of wealth, etc., that Americans still do not all have equal opportunity for success.

Prejudice on the basis of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, sexual identity, as well as many other identities, continues to exist within the nation.

But, still, Trump continued in his presidential bid announcement promising, “If I win, I’ll bring [the American Dream] back better and bigger and stronger than ever before.”

My concern with candidates’ promise to revive the American Dream is not only that it does not appear to be imminently plausible, but also that to assert that the American Dream once existed is to conceal aspects of our history that reveal us to be a systematically oppressive nation, historically.

The American Dream has never been genuine or even conceivable for all Americans.

Certainly, the Dream could not have existed simultaneously with slavery, the atrocious treatment of many Native Americans in the early years America’s formation, the suppression of women’s right to vote or discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

These instances of wrongdoing just serve as a few of many instances of maltreatment of marginalized groups in the United States.

Because this country, grievously, has always facilitated injustice toward many, the Dream has never been true for all Americans, and therefore, by definition, has never existed at all.

Consequently, there is no bringing the American Dream back; it is not dead; it has not lately become a mirage.

Believing in the American Dream also potentially promotes a dangerous meritocracy: the notion that those who succeed work hard and have reputable morals, and those who do not succeed are lethargic and passive. The ideology makes no allowance for the effects of individual circumstance and bias.

The rhetoric and ideology of the American Dream is an illustration of how easy it is to disconnect portions of our nation’s history from one another.

We want to believe that our country began as a utopian-esque place where one could do absolutely anything if he worked hard enough; it would be much easier then to exude patriotism.

But we cannot misrepresent the examples of injustice and oppression that glare at us from history. We have to accurately inspect our history in order to improve upon our current society.

Unfortunately, this includes altering the way we understand one of the largest pieces of our national identity: The American Dream.

With this awareness, we instead need to focus on moving toward an equal society — through dialogue, awareness campaigns, electing the sympathetic officials, bolstering education, and so on — in which the American Dream could conceivably exist for the very first time.

Alex is a senior in LAS.

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