Second part of the Why Are We Divided blog series
An Unsustainable American Dream
Actually, the American Dream, like a giant Ponzi scheme, has always been unsustainable and untenable. It has finally reached the point where it can no longer pay out the riches it has implicitly pledged. Once the American Dream’s veil of illusion has been pulled away to reveal the reality of its deception, confidence among those subscribing to the American Dream has crumbled. Those who have fallen to the back of the line of achieving the American Dream are now suspicious of those who are succeeding or those they perceive as succeeding. The result is a feeling of suspicion, distrust, and despair among many.
Can the American Dream be resurrected? Can it once again be melded into our national narrative, a goal that unites us in the common pursuit of a way of living that is distinctly American? As a candidate, President Trump promised to “Make America Great Again” and restore the American Dream. However, it has proven difficult.
In my estimation the American Dream, as fantasized in popular imagination, is no longer a possibility. And I believe that its usefulness as a national narrative is past. The question is what should replace the American Dream narrative. The current narrative is embedded in economic growth and expansion. There is always something more to be obtained, a bigger TV or the latest technological gadget. But this narrative is unsustainable economically and psychologically. The bonds of community have frayed in many places contributing to the cultural divide.
In absence of a strong and realizable national narrative the stories of different “tribal” groups have gained traction and attention. Different groups of people—white working class, people of color, the poor (lower thirty percent of incomes), recent immigrants, middle class, upper twenty percent, the upper one percent, liberals (left) and conservatives (right)—have asserted their own values and narratives. These narratives are often in conflict with each other and are fraying America even further.
Weaving together a new national narrative is essential to renew our shaken democracy. But what shall the national narrative be? One has not yet coalesced. Instead we have fragmented narratives from different groups that reflect our tribal mentality. In keeping with our focus on the cultural divide between liberals and conservatives, the following are their respective narratives.
The Liberal Narrative
At one time, the vast majority of humans lived in societies that were unjust, corrupt, repressive, and oppressive. These traditional societies were unacceptable because of their entrenched inequality, exploitation, and superstitious traditions. But humans have always yearned to be free, equal, autonomous, and prosperous and they have honorably struggled against the forces of despair and tyranny. Eventually, and with great sacrifice, humans have succeeded in founding modern, liberal, democratic, capitalist, and social-welfare societies. While modern societies hold the possibility to make best use of the mechanisms to assure individual freedom and pleasure of all, there is still much work remaining to undo the entrenchment of the powerful who perpetuate inequality, exploitation, and repression for their own benefit. Dedicating one’s life to achieving this mission of a good society in which individuals are equal and free to follow their self-defined happiness, is a noble and worthwhile struggle.
This heroic narrative, with slight variations according to regions, is a recognizable story line among leftists around the world. It’s a valiant and epic liberation narrative that calls for the victims of oppression to break the chains of tradition, authority, power, and hierarchy in order to free their noble aspirations.
The Conservative Narrative
America was once a shining beacon on a hill. It was a land of freedom, industry, personal responsibility, and achievement. Then liberals decided to intervene and built a colossal federal bureaucracy that shackled the invisible hand of the free market. They undermined our traditional American values and besmirched God and faith in the process. Instead of valuing the act of working for a living, they took money from hardworking Americans and gave it to drug addicts and welfare queens. Instead of following traditional American values of family, loyalty, and personal responsibility, they encouraged a feminist agenda that weakened the traditional family. Instead of saluting America’s strength and goodness around the world, they cut military budgets, belittled soldiers, disrespected the flag, and chose negotiation and multilateralism. Conservatives have had enough and are taking back our country from those who seek to demean and emasculate it.
Watch for part 3 of this series.
Dr. Denise R. Ames is a long-time educator, grade 7-university, author of seven books, and president of an educational non-profit, Center for Global Awareness, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. CGA provides books, resources, and services with a holistic, global- focused, and perspective-taking approach for their three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, books and resources for educators and students grade 9-university; Gather, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a self-organizing study and conversation program for adults focusing on seeing different perspectives of pressing global issues; and their most recent program Turn, Transformative Understanding and Reflection Network, which encourages lifelong and transformative learning to help us arrive at a place of personal and global well-being using a seven “path” approach.