Comment in today’s Guardian, suggests something I have written about in the past. Look around and form your own conclusion...
The American dream has become a burden for most
As wages stagnate and costs rise, US workers recognise the guiding ideal
of this nation for the delusional myth it is
In movies about the old West, scenes on cattle drives show dumb animals blindly being led to slaughter. Creatures at the front of the line, which might have noticed approaching danger, had no way of informing those that followed.
Humans are no different...or, perhaps, worse. People can warn of an impending crisis, but most ignore reality.
One could forgive citizens of the Soviet Union for believing government propaganda, because they had no other source of information. What is happening with information about climate change is not much different, but citizens of the United States have access to many sources of information. Too many are simply too stupid to look, listen, or learn...
The “American Dream” is always a hot topic in an election year, even if it never fades from view or earshot. Despite its popularity, these words could be the most-amorphous term ever coined. Each has his or her own idea of what this does or does not entail.
Reality and Dream could not be more different. Also, each person develops a different view from experience, observations, US media reports, and foreign media reports. Some foreign reports attempt to burst the bubble of fantasy and reveal their carefully edited take on “reality”. US media reveal their partisan leanings in reports during the election year, each aimed to boost the chance of their chosen one.
I have often written that for most, if not all, humans “it’s always about money”. It turns out that I missed something essential. The saying should read “it’s always about money and god”. Depending upon you political persuasion...
I spent my early years in one of Boston’s wealthier suburbs. I would guess that my family was lower middle class in a town bursting with upper middle class and beyond. The town featured no wrong-side-of-the-tracks, because the railroad, which was still a feature of daily life in those days, sliced the town in half. I recall stories of “one hundred millionaires” residing in that town. I had no idea what a millionaire was...other than someone with an unimaginable bunch of money. There was a television program about some rich guy, who gave away one million dollars anonymously. The show was entertaining, but provided no clue as to the value of that amount.
At that time, one’s relative prosperity in the United States was not as big an issue as it is today. “Things” and brands were less dominant. Other kids’ parents might have a nicer car, but we still had a car. And, I had a bicycle...and toys...and clothes...and we ate well. I felt no different from my peers. What more could a kid want?
I can recall my first glimpse of poverty. I might have been seven or eight. A friend invited me to accompany him on a long weekend in autumn to their summer home on Deer Island in Maine. I’m certain his parents wanted someone to play with their only child. The island, which I recall as being sparsely populated and rural, was reached by ferry. I remember driving with his father to a farm that sold pumpkins and then visiting someone’s home, which was little more than a shack. What I remember most vividly was the dirt floor, because no house in Wellesley, Massachusetts, had such a floor. That was the first, and last, time that I set foot in a poor person’s home in the United States, but the look and feel of dirt left a lasting impression.
About the same time, I became aware of a different kind of poverty. Some summers, we drove to Virginia to visit relatives. I recall seeing shacks of dirt poor Black “farmers” beside the road (no Interstates at that time) in Maryland and Virginia. The structures were so different from the houses on the streets of the well-to-do in my town...and even the less well-to-do. When older, I noticed details, such as the shacks being on blocks (no cellar as in our house), a dirt track leading to the door (not a drive for cars), no power lines, missing windows, etc.
I run across such poverty until I traveled to Asia, where non-Western standards are prevalent. I noticed that people were more cheerful and less down-trodden than the poor of America, perhaps because they do not have foolish dreams of a better life and follow a religion that promises more than the choice between heaven and hell.
I have been guilty of tending to cynicism. I can’t help but to call ‘em as I see ‘em. For me, a spade is a shovel, to dig your hole deeper; a club a blunt instrument to beat a dead horse; a diamond a piece of hard glass to tempt gullible people (mostly female, that most vicious of the species); but, a heart is something to have for the less-fortunate, the abused, and the underdogs amongst us.
With this in mind, I thought today about the difference between Germans and Americans, both fine examples of the species, even if each has evolved in different directions. Eons from now, paleontologists examine fossil evidence will notice variations in bone structure and teeth, both with evidence of different nutrition.
In general, Germans enjoy an excellent quality of life, but constantly complain. They know that life cannot become better for them, because of rigid social structures. Only lottery players hope for more, even if they know that they are dreaming. This is the only tax that anyone gladly pays.
In the United States, where streets are reputed to be paved with gold bricks life keeps becoming worse for the majority. Word about actual road conditions has not reached all foreign lands, and citizens do not understand that tax money is needed to improve all non-golden streets. Average living standards are declining, and the middle class is shrinking. Only the number of people sinking below the poverty level increases. Nevertheless, the American Dream is alive and kicking, with belief thriving unabated. Most seem to foolishly blame themselves or bad luck for dire circumstances and believe that the system and the Constitution allows life to become better, if only....
Unlike Germans, few Americans complain--except about the Government, regardless of the party in office. They know that improvement is just over the horizon and down the Yellow Brick Road...
_ Many, if not most, people on this planet have heard of the “American Dream”. Foolishly, many still believe in it. In simple terms, it promises that anyone--regardless of one’ origins or starting point—can be successful and become rich. No one seems to notice that the odds are about as bad as winning the lottery jackpot. But, people hang on to this foolish belief...and spend billions on the lottery.
After years of living in Germany, I have determined the “German Dream”. As befits this nation of disciplined toilers and savers, everyone’s dream is to have a pension and health insurance. All it takes is a job and/or application to social services. A rare few fall through tiny holes in the net, but mostly out of desire to avoid any connection to the government. As you might notice, this is less driven by greed and more by a desire for security.
If one wants to play around and dwell upon cliché, it is easy to imagine each country’s “Dream”. For example, the French versions deals with eating well; the English one deals with feeling superior to the rest of the world; the Greek one deals with cheating: the government, on taxes, and everyone else; the Russian deals with some form of suffering; etc. I like the “French Dream”...
This piece from Truthout says much better some of the things I've been alluding to in this blog, as I see the country of my birth from afar...
The New American Dream
Thursday 31 March 2011 by: William Rivers Pitt
If you are wealthy, you are living in the Golden Age of your American Dream, and it's a damned fine time to be alive. The two major political parties are working hammer and tong to bless you and keep you. The laws are being re-written - often by fiat, and in defiance of court orders - to strengthen the walls separating you and your wealth from the motley masses. Your stock portfolio, mostly made by and for oil and war, continues to swell. Your banks and Wall Street shops destroyed the economy for everyone except you, and not only did they get away with it, they were handed a vast dollop of taxpayer cash as a bonus prize.
The little people probably crack you up when you bother to think about them. Their version of the American Dream is a ragged blanket too short to cover them, but they still buy into it, and that's the secret of your strength in the end. So many of them walk into the voting booths and solemnly vote against their own best interests, and for yours, because the American Dream makes them think they, too, will be rich someday. They won't - you've made sure of that - but so long as they keep believing it, your money will continue to roll in.
The Citizens United Supreme Court decision swept away the last tattered shreds of the façade of fairness in politics and electioneering, and now you own the whole store. You can use your vast financial resources to lie on a national level now, lie with your bare face hanging out, because it works. You're not the bad guy in America. Teachers, cops, firefighters, union members and public-sector employees are the bad guys, the reason for all our economic woes. NPR and Planned Parenthood are the bad guys. You did that, and when governors like Scott Walker rampage through worker's rights on your dime, you chuckle into your sleeve and enjoy your interest rate.
We're firing teachers and missiles simultaneously, to poach a line from Jon Stewart, and the inherent disconnect fails to sink in among those serving as dray horses for your greed and ambition. They're in the traces, bellowing about what you want them to focus on thanks to your total control of the "mainstream" news media, and they plow your fields with the power of their incoherent, misdirected rage.
They pay their taxes. Isn't that a hoot? They pay their taxes dutifully and annually, and that money gets shunted right to you and your friends, thanks to the politicians who love you and the laws that favor you, not to mention the wars that sustain you. They pay their taxes when they should just pay you, right? Talk about getting rid of government waste. They should just pay you directly and cut out the middle man, because it all goes to the same place in the end. You.
You are General Electric, and you paid no taxes in 2010. You made $14.2 billion in worldwide profits, $5.1 billion of which was made in America, and your tax burden amounted to a big fat zero. In fact, you claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion, thanks to your anti-tax lobbying efforts in Washington and your use of offshore tax havens that protect and defend your profit margin.
You are ExxonMobil, and you paid no taxes in 2009. In fact, you got a $156 million return.
You are Bank of America, and despite receiving a massive chunk of the taxpayer-funded bailout, despite recording a profit of $4.4 billion, you paid no taxes and received a $1.9 billion rebate.
You are Chevron, and you made $10 billion in 2009. You paid no taxes, and got a $19 million refund.
You are Citigroup, and you paid no taxes despite earning more than $4 billion, and despite getting a sizeable chunk of the taxpayer-funded bailout.
Your favorite part of it all?
The part that makes you laugh out loud?
It's when you hear the politicians you own talk about "shared sacrifices" and "fiscal responsibility." Man, that's a hoot. You watch them rave and froth on Capitol Hill about shutting down the government because the country doesn't have enough money to fund "entitlement programs" the little people have been paying into for decades. The very term - "entitlement" - cracks you up; how is it an entitlement if people paid for it? Nobody asks that question, of course. Nobody asks about cutting the bloated defense budget. Nobody asks where the billions diverted to Iraq and Afghanistan actually went, or where the money for Libya is going. For damned sure, nobody demands that you pony up and pay your fair share. You made sure of that, and the show goes on.
The United States of America has undergone a powerful transformation over the course of a single generation, and you are right up there in the catbird seat, watching it all unfold. For you, the New American Dream is "I got mine, kiss my ass, work and die (if you can find work, sucker), and pay me." For everyone else, the New American Dream is about simple survival, about running as fast as they can while going inexorably backwards.
Maybe you can even see the cancer eating away at the country that has treated you so royally, but you don't really care. You are safe and comfortable behind your gilded walls.
For now, anyway.
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.