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Dreaming is at the Core of the American Myth

Every American grows up hearing about something called the “American Dream” — a seemingly miraculous confluence of good fortune and dedication that only America can sustain.

For those of you who thought that having a dream or being a dreamer is a good thing, think again. Imagine being a “dreamer” and finding out that your dream car is underwater and headed toward the Gulf of Mexico without you. Imagine being a “dreamer” watching your dream house consumed by a raging forest fire or a wall of water. And imagine being a “dreamer” and finding out that the country you have always dreamed of adopting has a president who is committed to extinguishing your dream.

Dreaming is at the core of the American myth. Every American grows up hearing about something called the “American Dream” — a seemingly miraculous confluence of good fortune and dedication that only America can sustain. The image is so powerful that millions have streamed to the nation’s shores to wallow in its embrace. Once here, most have found that American reality is far less warm and fuzzy than the American Dream. And now it seems that large numbers of Americans nurtured by their dream have had this mother’s milk turn to booze and oxycodone.

In fact, if you dream too much in America these days, you are likely to lose out to those working real hard to make sure that your dream doesn’t intrude on their perceived reality. From climate change deniers to profiteering developers, from doctors without a conscience to profiteering drug companies, from bankers and brokers on the take to profiteering banks, and from sea to shining sea, those working to quash your dreams are on the rampage.

Just take a minute to think about the recent Hurricanes Harvey and Irma that blew away a lot of dreams in Texas and Florida; then think about recovering from the devastation. While America’s political class and economic elites debate who gets what support from whom, folks with financial resources are going about the business of recovery and maybe even beginning to dream again. Those without financial resources are going about the business of finding something to live in and something to eat, while wondering why the fairy dust of the American Dream always seems to pass them by.

The myth of the American Dream is a powerful opiate used by those who have the resources to realize some of their dreams to ensure that those who don’t have the resources to do so are forever condemned by their precarious economic status. Only people with economic security should dare to dream in America. For those without those resources, modest hopes are the currency of their future. This is the same currency that permeates the economic landscape in most developing countries.

HOPES AND DREAMS

Make no mistake — there is a huge difference between dreams and hopes. Few people dream of feeding their children or finding a roach free place to live. We dream about foie gras and a bottle of Chablis from our hotel lounge overlooking the sea. We dream about a home with a patio for the barbecue and room enough to store our boat. We dream about our “dream” vacation and our “dream” job.

Hope is something else — the modest notion that tomorrow will be a little better than today. There is no “hope” vacation and “hope” job sprinkled into our vocabulary. But there is a hope that your check will arrive today so you can pay the rent, buy food and keep the lights on. There is a hope that your car’s engine will turn over for another day so you can get to work. There is a hope that the school your child goes to gets the resources necessary to train your child to use a computer, even though there is no computer at home.

A major challenge for those of us with the economic resources to dream is to make certain that our dreams do not trample on the hopes of those without those resources. Those clinging to hope, often without much access to the corridors of power, must rely on the sporadic drumbeat for a more equitable distribution of economic resources that seeks to force the hand of those who make the choices for them. Far too often, self-interest trumps the public interest.

Places like Houston and Miami glisten with the unfettered development that feeds the dreams of both developers and those with the resources to live in beachfront properties and gated communities. At the same time, the hard political and economic choices to enforce building codes, strengthen power grids and accelerate infrastructure development are easily lost amid the glitter. When lost, this meager safety net is simply not there for those who need it most.

Even more unsettling to those who hope is the likelihood of reduced funding for the programs and projects that help to sustain hope. Venal Republican plans are afoot to reduce that funding in order to reduce the tax burden so those with dreams can dream bigger dreams. Always dreamed of owning a vacation home? Don’t worry, the US tax code is full of good stuff for you. Need to rent an 800-square-foot apartment for you and your family to live in? There is nothing in that tax code to help you out.

The present American political drama is about to shift from a failure to ensure access to meaningful health care for all, to an ugly economic assault on those who have lost sight of the American Dream or never have dreamed at all. The “debate” will be about tax rates, job creation, loopholes, beleaguered small businesses, lagging economic growth, infrastructure investment, border walls and the like. However, when the debate has ended, those who can only hope are likely to be a bit closer to hopeless, and those who can dream will be ever closer to that vacation home, new boat and four-car garage.

As shameful as the health care debate was, the upcoming budget and tax cut debates will be even worse. Once again, those who care about those who hope and those who hope themselves will be called upon to resist amid the deluge of delusion.

*[A version of this article was also featured on Larry Beck’s blog, Hard Left Turn.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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