The American dream is what pushed immigrants to brave the perils of an Atlantic crossing in search of a better life in the United States and drove pioneers as they crossed miles of plains determined to settle the American west. The American dream is what built the suburbs and inspired the Civil Rights Movement. Today, the American dream that built our country has become the American nightmare that could destroy it.
In the late 1960s, the population began to wake from the American dream thanks to increasing involvement in the Vietnam War, followed by the Watergate Scandal of the early 1970s. The latter part of that decade brought a further awakening, as industry-based communities across the nation began crumbling. By the time of the Reagan Recovery of the early 1980s, people in many parts of the country didn’t have time for the American dream, because they were spending every hour just trying to stay afloat.
It is important to note that the 1980s’ reputation as the decade of excess was, for the majority of Americans, only an illusion. Reaganomics brought economic recovery, but the ones who truly benefited were the Wall Street types and the heads of big business. For the average American, times were harder in the 1980s than ever before thanks to high interest rates and stagnant wages. In fact, owning a home, a cornerstone of the post-war American dream, became less of a possibility than ever before.
American Dream not only over, its now a nightmare of decline amid gross inequality and injustice: https://t.co/SQ6l44MftL
— Richard D. Wolff (@profwolff) April 8, 2016
Today, the American dream has changed again, but, to many, it looks more like the American nightmare. Gone are the days when the American dream was a house in the suburbs, a nice car, 2.2 children and a dog. Today, the American dream is fame − and not just Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes.
Since MTV’s Real World debuted in 1992, reality TV has given the average American, if not the opportunity to become famous, the ability to believe fame possible. The founding of MySpace in 2003, followed by Facebook in 2004 and YouTube in 2005, made it possible for people create aggrandized online personas and created a culture of shameless self-promotion.
For a population whose collective ideal is based in fiction, the most surprising part is society’s affection for the truth. Rapper and actor Ice Cube recently appeared on Bloomberg’s With All Due Respect and explained today’s version of the American dream quite well.
“Donald Trump is what Americans aspire to be − rich, powerful, do what you wanna do, say what you wanna say, be how you wanna be. That’s kind of been like the American dream.”
Today’s American dream is to avoid expending any effort by building a carefully crafted illusion that will lead to fame, power and riches, which will, in turn, allow one to speak one’s mind with a complete lack of concern for reality or others’ feelings. Truth built on lies. It sounds like an American nightmare to me.
[Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images]