Of all the countries in the world we are perhaps the most idealistic. This idealism, which is uniquely pragmatic, joined with our boundless optimism has created vast economic wealth. And lest we forget, wealth is the only thing that can produce the military power we must have to remain top dog.
I have no problem with that. But we should not be too proud.
Divine providence made us more fortunate than most other nations. We inherited a huge continent, a wilderness full of natural resources, and land free for the taking, even if it did belong to the native peoples. This great good fortune made us the richest nation on earth, giving us hegemony over the world. But we are in danger of losing that lofty status, which fills me with anxiety because I do not want to live in a world dominated by a rival power, like China, for instance. But neither the Chinese nor anybody else can knock us off our perch. Nobody but ourselves.
We will fall if we ignore our founding principles and continue with internal conflict.
It was historian James Truslow Adams, however, who cemented the concept and phrase: The American Dream.
In the preface to his book “The Epic of America”, Adams wrote of “the American dream, 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.”
The instant popularity of the term The American Dream may well be attributed in no small way to the timing of its coinage — in the midst of the Great Depression, his phrase that encapsulated the vision that anyone could rise above adverse circumstances through dedication was a hopeful note.
The idealistic American Dream is our founding principle.
It says that here life is better and richer for everyone according to their abilities and achievements. The Dream says we have no class differences, even if the top 1% own more wealth than they ever have. But forget statistics. We’re all going to be rich someday anyway. Everybody has equal chances for happiness and prosperity if they play by the rules and work hard.
But the Dream also says that there is room for immigrants. In fact, if not for immigrants the mighty economic machine would grind to a halt.
The American Dream is in danger because of the madness of power and the conflict engendered by those who grasp for it.
We have reverted to the Know-Nothing Era, a time in the 1850s when nativists justified anti-immigrant sentiment with one answer, “I know nothing.” The Know-Nothings did not believe in the Dream. They believed in weird racial-ethnic theories, strangely enough, racism directed against other whites.
For decades white-on-white racism relegated Irish immigrants and those from Eastern and Southern Europe to an inferior status. It was all about keeping power in society for one ethnic group, white Anglo Saxons.
This conflict led to great inequality in the distribution of resources and political and economic power.
Tragically, we see this power-conflict madness again with the irrational fear of newcomers and the durable inequality it creates.
Joe Barrera, Ph.D., is the former director of the Ethnic Studies Program at UCCS, and a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.