At the gym yesterday morning, the TV was turned on to one of the morning news shows. I wasn’t really paying attention, but I noticed that they had asked their viewers to respond to the following question:
Is the American Dream still alive?
I am generally very optimistic about the resilience of our country and, I suppose, that would include the American Dream. I didn’t actually notice what the viewers’collective response was, but I did find this question stubbornly stuck in my head throughout my workout and shower. Before answering the question, I challenged myself to define the American Dream. And, since I’m 50 and, thus, on the backside of the dreaming process, I dropped down a generation to ask the same question.
As I was driving my 15 year old daughter to school later that morning, I asked her to define the American Dream. She was busy doing her history homework in the car (working ahead for the next day; she’d kill me if I suggested she hadn’t done her homework on time!) and didn’t really want to be bothered by deep philosophical questions from dad. But, I pushed a bit and said, “Seriously, just give me one sentence.” She said, “OK, to be free and be able to work.”
That’s pretty simple and incredibly close to the definition I had in my head. My American Dream sound bite was, “to be free and have the ability to prosper.” I think “be able to work” and “have the ability to prosper” are pretty close, though prosperity could go beyond just having a job.
Once I had a good handle on my own definition, I ventured over to the source of all sources – Wikipedia – to see what they had to say. Here’s how they define the American Dream:
The American Dream is a national ethos of the United States, a set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility achieved through hard work.
Wiki, it seems, is well aligned with my daughter and me. With a solid definition of the American Dream in hand, I felt I could begin to answer the question as to whether it is still alive. I really expected to come up with an answer of YES! While the abysmal failures of the Obama presidency are now well-documented, I really believed when I started this thought process that the American Dream was much bigger than one bad president. The American Dream survived Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter for crying out loud!
Folks, it turns out I am much less optimistic about the survival of the American Dream than I thought I would be. The single word that appeared in all three definitions of the American Dream – mine, my daughter’s, and Wiki’s – was “freedom.” No surprise there. Best as I can recall from my own high school history lessons, our country was founded by a bunch of cats from England who risked life and limb to escape an oppressive government and gain their freedom from that persecution. Fast forward a few hundred years and we now have a federal government that is so intrusive into all aspects of our lives that it is not at all far-fetched to begin to use words like persecution.
Here’s what Merriam-Webster has to say about persecution:
We learned last week that our tax collection agency is now being used to interrogate folks whose political views differ from Obama’s and senior officials have been hiding that information for several years. This is a clear fit with both of Merriam-Webster’s definitions of persecution. We later learned that the Obama Justice Department has been secretly obtaining phone records from our allegedly free press. We cannot have freedom while we have persecution. We cannot pursue the American Dream without freedom. Period. Full Stop. Quod erat demonstrandum.
As a quick aside, and in light of the Obama IRS scandal, everyone should read this paragraph and see if you get goose bumps:
He has, acting personally and through his subordinates and agents, endeavored to obtain from the Internal Revenue Service, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, confidential information contained in income tax returns for purposes not authorized by law, and to cause, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, income tax audits or other income tax investigations to be initiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner.
–Article 2.1 of the Articles of Impeachment of Richard M. Nixon (July 27, 1974)
The second big piece of the American Dream, again articulated by all three of my sources, is the ability to pursue prosperity. Frankly, once freedom is infringed upon and persecution becomes acceptable, I’m not convinced that pursuit of prosperity matters much. The American Dream is already in deep yogurt. That said, the Obama administration has done its best to obliterate this facet of the American Dream as well. I have written several times about the deleterious effect his policies have had on unemployment and, in particular, African American and teen African American unemployment. Without that first job, or any job, it becomes very difficult to pursue prosperity. And, even when one has a job, it’s very hard to create wealth when a capricious federal government confiscates more and more of that wealth. And, as the federal government saddles future generations with higher and unsustainable levels of debt in pursuit of some elusive Keynesian fantasy, it becomes clear that an increasing percentage of wealth created in the future will just go to paying off those debts. In other words, the ability to prosper is becoming increasingly difficult.
I’m not prepared to declare the American Dream dead just yet. Maybe simply because doing so would be too depressing to even ponder. But, there’s no doubt this president has put the American Dream in deep peril. Freedom is slowly giving way to persecution and the ability to prosper through hard work is becoming very difficult. I hope we can reverse this trend, but the signs are not good.