On this, the anniversary of MLK’s “I have a dream” speech, I would like to suggest that we take a moment to reflect on what we have accomplished since 1963, and the work that we still need to do. We are still not at the point where “content of character” means more than anything else, so I would say we still have much to strive for.
I would also like to talk about a dream of another sort, which is also still out of reach for many more of us these days: the American Dream.
You hear the term “American Dream” bandied about all the time, but have you really thought about what it is supposed to mean, represent or stand for?
The American Dream is a national ethos of the United States in which freedom includes a promise of the possibility of prosperity and success. 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 idea of the American Dream is rooted in the Declaration of Independence which proclaims that “all men are created equal” and that they are “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights” including “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The ethos today simply indicates the ability, through participation in the society and economy, for everyone to achieve prosperity. According to the dream, this includes the opportunity for one’s children to grow up and receive a good education and career without artificial barriers. It is the opportunity to make individual choices without the prior restrictions that limited people according to their class, caste, religion, race, or ethnicity.
I don’t know about you, but nowhere in there does it say that the American Dream only applies to those at the C-level, in executive/upper management, directors of huge corporations or private trusts, sitting on Wall Street, or elected to political office.
It means you and I should have the same opportunities and access, even though we don’t sit in the big leather chairs. I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel that way.
There are those in Congress who consistently work to widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots, and you know who they are. If you haven’t checked the latest headlines:
In short, the payroll tax break for individuals is about to expire, and Congress is okay with that, even though the tax break sometimes means an extra $1000 in a family’s bank account. (Social Security payroll taxes apply only to the first $106,800 of a worker’s wages. Therefore, $2,136 is the biggest benefit anyone can gain from the one-year reduction.) Many of the same Republicans who fought like crazy to keep the Bush-era income tax cuts from expiring on schedule are now saying this different “temporary” tax cut should end as planned. By their own definition, that amounts to a tax increase. That is not my dream.
I am not saying that this one tax break for us regular people will make the kind of dent in our national debt that can turn this country around. I’m just tired of feeling like we’re the only ones making any sacrifices. I am willing to sacrifice, and I have. My family and I have made lifestyle changes over the past couple of years during this recession to greatly reduce our spending and make sure that our debt doesn’t exceed our income. It’s still really difficult. We have no such thing as a retirement account any more, so at this rate my best hope is to drop dead on a business trip and collect the accident insurance so that my kids can actually go on to college, or hit the Lotto jackpot. Cheery and so likely to happen, don’t you think?
So as we move forward and are subjected to the political rhetoric overload of this new “pick me” election cycle, I would really like to hear someone talk about an American Dream that is once again a possibility for the rest of us, and not just the ones sitting at the top of the money pile. I had a boss who said to my team a few years ago that “money doesn’t roll downhill; only shit rolls downhill.”
I guess that’s what the politicians really mean by “trickle down.”
Sounds more like a nightmare to me.