The American Dream was designed to keep people working without question
Ten years ago, Obama gave what was one of his best speeches on the American Dream. Obama’s rhetorical style managed to deliver hope. It told people that together change could come. His speech itself was a way to try to deliver the promise that so many Americans see as their birthright; that life should be better and everything can be within grasp if one works hard enough. Obama came to symbolise that American Dream for many, that together he could bring consistent change for everyone. Obama though could not deliver the impossible.
The nightmare of capitalism prevents the majority from any success they were ever promised by the lie that is meritocracy. In 1931, James Truslow Adams defined the American Dream as the idea that “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement”. Yet, America, as we know it, was born on the oppression of indigenous people and was made wealthy by the exploitation and slavery of black people. Slaves even built the White House, which a President tied closer to white supremacy than almost any other in modern history, now occupies.
That President told the world he would make America great again and that he fought for the working class. Trump always ignored people of colour within the working class, and overwhelmingly people of colour are more likely to be born into poverty. What, too, would Trump know of the American Dream? He was granted his wealth by his father. It’s easy for the rich to get rich and stay rich. It’s even easier for them to rebound due to their connections and considerable influence in many cases. Trump represents meritocracy as much as Putin represents compassion.
Trump tried to sell the promise of the American Dream again to areas that had seen steel factories and coal mines close. Yet those factories closed in the first place, because of America’s obsession with capitalism. America’s freedom was always based around the idea of financial freedom, largely because it was white cis straight men who ever held power in America. Capitalism allowed factories to move from areas with strong unions where workers were represented to where they could be exploited more easily. Republicans support this concept because they believe that the free market and not the government will save people. Republicans don’t want jobs back, they want cheaper labour and for American capitalists to profit the most. When they complain about jobs going oversees, they don’t mean the people losing their livelihoods in America. They weep for the rich who have less workers to exploit at home.
“They weep for the rich who have less workers to exploit at home”
The American Dream is designed to keep workers in their place. If people believe that if they can just get on and they will be able to achieve anything they want then they will be more compliant. The ideology was always centred around work and what people did within their employment. It did not centre upon the inherent value of people (and therefore it was inherently ableist).
Those who deliver rhetoric around the American Dream so rarely offer any chance of social mobility, however. Reagan became infamous for his lack of spending where it was needed. During his Presidency, tens of thousands died from AIDS while Reagan did nothing. His administration could barely mention the word “AIDs”. While Republicans so often talk of cash cuts for the wealthy that will stimulate the economy, the reality was that one of the worst health crises ever took place on Reagan’s watch and he barely granted those who needed support a cent. Was that the American Dream?
Trump’s agenda was the American Dream: to make America great again and restore the hope that white people felt had been taken from them. Equality can feel like oppression to those who are accustomed to privilege, as the saying goes. The American Dream though was only ever designed to accommodate white people.
America is now struggling with an opioid pandemic but when it was people of colour being incarcerated for possession on a massive scale in the 90s, that was an issue of crime. People of colour weren’t granted the understanding that white people are when it comes to addiction. The second amendment too enshrined racism. It’s ratification saw militia’s glorified; these were too keep black people as hostages to the American police state that brutally enforced white supremacy. The right to bear arms was created so that white people could shoot black people. The American Dream is also not afforded to the people who had their land stolen. The theft of land is still a practice that goes on today, only now it is for pipelines.
Furthermore, disabled people in America rarely obtain adequate social security, and the healthcare system is still a minefield of debt for many despite Obama’s reforms. Trump wants to strip it entirely, because under his promise of freedom that means paying out just to get a routine checkup.
The poverty rate in America as of 2015 was 13.5% according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Over one in ten people live in poverty in a nation the world is supposed to envy. By the same year there was well over 2 million Americans incarcerated with American Americans five times more likely to incarcerated than white Americans. Additionally, while black Americans and Hispanics comprise of roughly 32% of the US population, they comprised 56% of all incarcerated people in 2015. Millions of people are languishing in a brutal prison system with their rights and freedom stripped away, and those most disproportionately impacted by this are people of colour. Since 1968, there have been over 1.5 million gun-related deaths in America and that numbers amounts to more than all the US casualties in all of the wars that the US has participated in. Yet, politicians offer thoughts and prayers and no real action due to the sheer size and wealth of the NRA. Capitalism is allowing daily tragedies.
The American Dream was used to give people hope, because those with optimism are easier to wield than those with anger and resentment. Many great politicians have tried to deliver justice but the dream itself was always based upon a lie. It was exported to the world and helped create the cult of American exceptionalism where every nation tried to keep up and capture the spirit of America. The United States though were built on oppression of workers, and particularly those who were people of colour (or disabled and queer). It is a beautiful concept, but one which capitalism can never truly imagine. In the race to the top, someone has to finish on the bottom and time and again it is the people who were always the worst off. Its time for America to wake up, Trump will never bring progress.