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Written by Jim Jordal   
Friday, 31 August 2012

REKINDLING THE "AMERICAN DREAM"

By Jim Jordal

Historian James Truslow Adams coined the phrase the "American Dream" in The Epic of America during the dark days of the Great Depression in 1931. His hope was to rekindle the fires of innovation and renew hope for those who had seemingly lost their way in the economic debacle. He believed that life for Americans should include not necessarily riches or great possessions, but the opportunity for social mobility based upon ability and achievement.

"The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to 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, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position," said Adams.

Today the American Dream is a vision lost for perhaps half of Americans as the top echelons of wealth continue to skim the best of everything for themselves. The dream of upward social mobility described by Adams was a source of hope when I was growing up in the 1930s. We were poor, but so was everybody else around us. We knew that with hard work, perseverance and the help of inexpensive education, affordable housing, and living wages we could at least aspire to better things. But those days of hope and expectation are now darkened for perhaps 150 million Americans.

Back in 1893 historian Frederick Jackson Turner described the American frontier as a "safety valve" in which the opportunity and challenge of the frontier displaced social unrest in the more settled areas of the nation. The frontier siphoned off the angst arising from many almost impossible urban working and living conditions and enabled government to avoid many of the threats associated with radical politics.

So where is the safety valve today? A troubling thought is that it lies in giddy, mindless entertainment and mountains of fast, cheap food. The "eat, drink and be merry" complex seems to override other more needed behaviors like personal responsibility, advocacy for justice, political transparency, business honesty, and a national ethos of caring more for others than for the "bottom line."

How much have American purveyors of power learned from the revolutionary events of the so-called "Arab Spring"? Not much, it seems. They have so much confidence in the passive acquiescence of the American public to continued acts of injustice that they cannot conceive of any sort of resistance beyond the Occupy movement and a few labor strikes and public demonstrations. But up to now politicians and corporate chieftains have shown precious little recognition of how explosive their callused denials of justice to the working class can be. It would be instructive for them to review the labor unrest and violence surrounding the rise of the labor movement around the turn of the past century. They might further consider that hope denied and forever lost leads people to a frame of mind where nothing else matters except justice. This situation has occurred countless times in history, and still exists to some degree if political and economic leaders do not begin to relax their strangle holds on the jobs and futures of American workers.

I think the "American Dream" can be renewed, and must be if we are to remain a viable nation dedicated to freedom and justice. But it cannot be a dream based upon increased possessions and consumption fueled by massive risk-taking and accumulation of public and private debt. It must be a new dream of vastly improved human relationships rather then power and class struggles over survival. It must include a strong component of caring for the earth rather than exploiting it. And it must also include the recognition that God has something to say beyond personal salvation about how humans live in society. The message of Jubilee justice must become the ethos of the land.

Your role is to keep it alive in your household and among your circle of social contacts. The monster of gross social, political and economic injustice cannot survive an enlightened, active, repentant public. So why don’t you become part of the answer? Now!