There Are Too Many “Me”s In the American Dream

As tomorrow is Independence Day, I feel the need to express my constantly expanding frustration that Americans are generally divided into two main groups, each with many subgroups of course. But the preponderance of all groups seem to agree one thing: They are disgusted with politicians.politics

Washington seems to be eternally broken ever since Newt Gingrich took over as Speaker of the House and changed the federal government into a place where politicians seem more interested in self-preservation than We the People. Things seem even worse in GOP-run state capitals, like Louisiana, Kansas, and Michigan—where lead-tainted water may be pouring out of kitchen faucets, where severe business tax-cuts have never spurred growth, where bullshit supply-side economics drains state treasuries, and where leaders’ lack of fairness has demoralized, and disenfranchised citizens—continue to fail miserably and nothing is done to stem the damage done by the “economically challenged”  GOP governors and legislatures.

I have to admit that I am fortunate enough to have no personal experience on either side of the two most socially polarizing aspects, abortion and gun rights; an odd pairing to say the least. But my own opinions tend towards personal judgement, with limitations.

My main concerns are economics, because money, having it or not, how it’s taxed or not, is not easy stuff at the governmental level. As I’ve said before, we have far too many politicians who preach perfectly ridiculous theories that are based in hogwash. And as an electorate, we Americans do not do well with complicated truths. A simple answer, even if it’s total crap, always has more influence than a complicated one that is true. Always.

Yet most Americans apparently still believe in America; the experiment in democracy which was to create a place where the government would protect the rights of all its citizens not just the wealthy top 1%. There’s something fundamental to the idea of America that they want badly, even if it seems impossible, in the face of the open, blatant racism and obstructionism that has been on display since President Obama took office.

Donald Trump boasts he will “make America great again.” Hillary Clinton punches back that America “has never stopped being great.” But what does that even mean? And who defines greatness? A billionaire businessman, a former secretary of state — or an aging jazz musician; still homeless since one of the many George W. Bush debacles—Katrina.

Among most Americans, a theme has taken root: Compared to other nations, the United States is good, but hardly great anymore; “and it could be a lot better if the politicians weren’t fighting each other all the time.”

In the Aaron Sorkins’ HBO series, The Newsroom, the disgruntled, aging news journalist, Will McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels) expressed in 2012 what many still lament today:

“…And with a straight face, you’re going to tell students that America is so star-spangled awesome that we’re the only ones in the world who have freedom? Canada has freedom, Japan has freedom, the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Australia, BELGIUM has freedom! Two hundred and seven sovereign states in the world, like 180 of them have freedom.

And yeah, you… sorority girl. Just in case you accidentally wander into a voting booth one day, there are some things you should know, and one of them is: There is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re seventh in literacy, twenty-seventh in math, twenty-second in science, forty-ninth in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, number four in labor force, and number four in exports.

We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next twenty-six countries combined, twenty-five of whom are allies. None of this is the fault of a 20-year-old college student, but you, nonetheless, are without a doubt a member of the WORST-period-GENERATION-period-EVER-period, so when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about! Yosemite?
Will McAvoy: [pauses] We sure used to be. We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons, we passed laws, struck down laws for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were, and we never beat our chest. We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence; we didn’t belittle it; it didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election, and we didn’t scare so easy. We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed. By great men, men who were revered. The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore. “

America is so divided that one can hardly keep up with all the ways—it’s divided by political party, choice of media, income, gender, race or ethnic group, religious faith (or not), generation, geography and general outlook on the country’s future. Pundits have proclaimed the electorate angry and wondered if the nation can ever recover the sense of unity experienced in the immediate aftermath of the al-Qaida attacks that took place 15 years ago this September.

What the media does NOT acknowledge is that they are just as complicit as the politicians.  They continually allow lies, deflections and bias in order to, as Chuck Todd, (the completely forgettable and supercilious “political director” for the ComCast/NBC networks) put it so eloquently, it’s not his job to correct misinformation. After all, access is the name of the news game now. The news is expected to make profit just like the entertainment division since the 1980s as news division went from cost centers to serve the public, to profit centers to serve board members and investors.

In the current election cycle, I’ve heard on many occasions that the millennial generation blames the baby boomer generation for all of our country’s ills, yet see themselves as totally un-responsible as they sink into $1.3 trillion in student debt that will probably never repaid, and, as implied in Will McAvoy’s speech above, the boomers see millennials as spoiled kids who think everyone deserves a trophy just for “trying real hard”.

The current dearth of confidence in the nation’s politics and government is striking. Recent polling by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows just 13 percent of Americans are proud of the 2016 election, and 55 percent feel helpless. Only 10 percent have a great deal of confidence in the overall political system, with 4 percent having a great deal of confidence in Congress, 15 percent in the executive branch, and 24 percent in the Supreme Court. Few Americans see either political party as responsive to ordinary voters.

Although their America is still a land of shining seas, spacious skies and majestic mountains, many express a deep sense of disenchantment and uncertainty in their own lives, while bridges crumble, the interstates rot, citizens are poisoned by their own tap water, and no one is held accountable.

For most, real success has always seemed out of reach. The old textile mill across town is a reminder, dark and empty because labor was cheaper in Southeast Asia or Latin America; the manufacturing plant on the outskirts of the city uses steel imported from China, which even they can’t sell anymore.

Employment has rebounded somewhat since the Housing market crash/Great Recession, but wages are stagnant. Forget saving for a home — millions work more than one job just to keep food on the table and the lights on. What happened to the American dream?

I remember in the 1960s, when African Americans were seeing an end to racial segregation; when women were gaining equality; when politicians were taking a stand to end poverty despite the turmoil of protests over the Vietnam War.

And then it was all destroyed right before our eyes when they assassinated all of our leaders. John Kennedy. Robert Kennedy. Martin Luther King. And with those deaths, so died the end of hope.

Hope returned, at least for some, in 2008 when a mixed-race lawyer with a foreign-sounding name won the White House. Obama’s election seemed to prove that anyone could still accomplish anything in America.

Yet the years that followed have seemed more unsettling than ever. The tea party, blatant disrespect and obstructionism became as commonplace as mass shootings. Decorum, cooperation, and compromise became dirty words.

Yet American greatness was never just about words scrawled on heavily guarded, age-yellowed parchment kept in a vault at the National Archives.

It was the striving for the common good, the compassion and determination to make ALL Americans equal under the law…which has now become striving for MY good and to hell with being our brother’s keeper or loving our neighbors if it means the wealthy paying more taxes.

In the U.S., it’s easy for people to stow themselves away and see only those things outside the front window or just down the street. People can turn on the lather-rinse-repeat of cable TV or the internet and forget that for which America was intended: A place built on the idea that everyone should get an equal opportunity. And idealists. God love the idealists who choose ideology over practicality. An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cucumber, concludes that it is also more nourishing.

Whether voters opt for Trump, Clinton or someone else this November, the preponderance of Americans say the state of the union isn’t good enough. On that I will agree.

But as it says at the top of the page, it takes team work to make the dream work, but there are an awful lot of “me”s (as in “what’s in it for me”) in today’s version of America’s Dream and not enough “our”s.

Harvey A. Gold