At this time of sluggish wages, massive unemployment, home foreclosures, global unrest, mass starvation, multiple genocides, and that ever-looming "Inconvenient Truth" about the state of our planet, is it any wonder that many feel that their personal notion of the American Dream is slowly slipping away? Long gone is the unique American social phenomenon that each new generation will automatically "do better" than the last.
Whether that dream was the kind imagined in John Winthrop's "City Upon a Hill," or Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream of racial equality, or the one most often defined by the "almighty dollar," things are starting to feel more and more like "The Grapes of Wrath" than "The Great Gatsby." Like the gross, classless, tasteless reality of the Real Housewives of Orange County, Atlanta or the Big Apple, all of the material trappings of Mac Mansions, sweet (gas-guzzling) rides valet-parked out back, and a never-ending search for bigger and brighter "blood" bling-bling only serve as visual reminders of what separate the relatively few successful "Haves" from the growing number of not-so-successful "Have-nots."
As a nation that traditionally focused on thrift and hard work to accomplish its goals of the American Dream, we used to hold the saying "Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise." with high regard. It didn't necessarily mean that we expected excessive wealth, but rather, monetary self-sufficiency and the chance for advancement because of the merits of our labors and some extra cash we stashed away or invested. Simply put, it was the freedom to pursue our dreams - however we defined them - through hard work and free choice. That was how America's middle-class was born.
But now we live in a post-BUSH-alyptic cataclysm. We are drowning in the wake of a tsunami of botched dreams. I would call them nightmares, but no matter how scary, with nightmares one wakes up and reality is usually better than the bad dream. In our case, however, emergency and fiscal mismanagement, unheard of deficits, the failure to relieve those affected by the aftermath of Katrina and the poverty exposed in its ugly underbelly, dismantled social and health safety nets, failing municipal infrastructures, deregulation of every pollution-causing industry, the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the geopolitical angst of an atom bomb equipped Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan (whew...) make waking up as nightmarish as the worst of dreams.
The new incoming administration of hope and change with any luck will understand that although we may have different stories, that we may not look the same and may not have come from the same place - we all have similar hopes, and want and need to move towards a better future. White picket fence or not, we are all entitled to a joyful American Dream, and we need the leadership that will rekindle our pursuit of happiness.
With proposed dreams to care for the sick, to improve health care, to up-lift the poor, to house the homeless, to improve the quality of our schools, to offer better and more plentiful green-collar jobs, to be eco-sensitive, to enforce civil rights laws, and to provide ladders of opportunity, we hope that by ending conflicts and cultivating compassion, our new administration will honestly realize that dreams don't always have to occur at the expense of others or the environment.
In the words of the humorist Max Beerbohm "We must stop talking about the American dream and start listening to the dreams of Americans."