Happy fourth of July. I’m looking forward to this day! A break in the middle of the week so we can celebrate America’s birthday – 242 years old, to be exact.
And while you lounge in your lawn chair or splash your feet in the water, waiting for those burgers to cook to juicy char-broiled perfection, it might a good time to ponder this question …is the dream…the American Dream … still alive?
The true American Dream? Yes, I’d say it is now alive more than ever.
The American Fairy Tale? The curtain has been pulled back on that sham and revealed it to be a fraud of massive proportions.
I suppose a few definitions might help.
Historian James Truslow Adams coined the phrase “The American Dream” in 1931 when he wrote,
“But there has been also the American dream, that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement… It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable...”
Did you hear it? That word?
In a single word, the American Dream has always been: opportunity. No matter who you are, you can go as far or as high as you can go.
So what seems to have deflated our enthusiasm for this vision?
Well there can be no doubt that our history and maybe even parts of our present have promoted, or if not promoted have permitted, the systematic exclusion of entire groups of people from participation in that opportunity.
Of course this is wrong. But aside from being wrong, it is wrong-headed. By excluding entire groups of humanity, we deny ourselves the contributions only they can uniquely bring.
But could it also be that in our desire to right very real wrongs of the past (and those that exist in the present) we may have shifted our focus from the American Dream to the American Fairy Tale.
In the American Fairy tale, equality of opportunity is exchanged for equality of outcomes. The spring board is traded in for a safety net. And as a result, the national treasury becomes a feeding trough for every interest group that thinks they deserve to put their hand in someone else’s pocket.
Martin Luther King wrote of the justice behind the American Dream in his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail,
"We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands. . . . when these disinherited childrens of God sat down at lunch counters they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream…."
The American dream is for black and white, left and right, rich and poor, believer and non-believer. It is for all.
And for all who still believe in it, it exists and its light shines brighter than ever.
What’s getting hard and harder to believe in is the American Fairy tale of free money for all and a happy ending that requires something less than your blood, sweat and tears.
Today - on July Fourth - it might be a worthwhile exercise to ask yourself - which vision of America will you believe in?