Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The American Dream

What is it today?
In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, the US is smack dab in the middle of election drama. After November 6, maybe we’ll get a reprieve from the misery our media seems to delight in slinging at us from every possible angle. But, I doubt it.

We also just marked the passing of an 11 year milestone of the tragedy most Americans identify as “9-11” or, simply, “September 11 – Never Forget”.

Last year at this time, I was consumed with my memories of 9/11. I sought out words and pictures and documentaries about the day, and I stayed up late into the night on many consecutive nights watching people on my screen share their stories about their own personal experiences surviving the event.

This year, I gave my attention to two pieces on the subject (here (@_otis_) and here (@grange95)), and no more.

My thinking this year on the tragedy is, again, great sadness. The destruction of the towers, the injury to the Pentagon, the plane-turned-bomb failing in its original mission and crash landing in a field in Pennsylvania, the loss of lives. These are things that those of us who lived through it will never forget and those who come after will never fully understand. And what was destroyed physically pales in comparison to what was done that day to America’s mentality.

Our media, particularly during this election season, illustrates each day how America’s mentality was injured, possibly irreparably, that day. What was not destroyed by outsiders eleven years ago, now seems to be hanging by a thread.

We have become a nation of division, hell bent on achieving specific, individual, interests, rather than seeking shared and united goals or dreams. And there is no unifying leader or inspiring call that Americans can look to and rally around as one. For if you like Obama, you are an anti-life socialist. If you like Romney, you are a capitalist religious extremist pig. And where is the middle ground in those choices?

In 1931, James Truslow Adams wrote a book called The Epic of America, in which he defined the American Dream as “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….It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

Inherent in this definition is the notion that the innate capabilities of each man and woman are different. Not everyone will attain the same “stature”. What is “success” to one will be less than success to another. But, the dream is the opportunity to achieve “the fullest stature of which [one is] innately capable.”

To me, this idea is merely a truth. We are all created equal under the law, in that we each have the right to work as hard as we wish to work and achieve as much as we wish to achieve; however, we are not all born with the same smarts, the same strengths, to parents who push and guide (or hurt and harm), or into impoverished families or those with money, land, power, or privilege. This is simply a truth.

There once was a time when what you were born into mattered less than what you personally did with what you were born into.

There once was a time when striving to be a millionaire was something to aspire to rather than a pejorative used in political ad campaigns.

There once was a time when we were inspired by a candidate asking us not what our country could do for us but what we could do for our country.

Was I living in a fog before 9-11 and just not fully able to see the inequities all around me? It’s possible.

Today we seem as ants scurrying around and in and out of a bed destroyed by a torrential downpour, our colony fusion off-track and our queen, Lady Liberty, long drowned.

I wish I could express myself better, but it’s the best my innate capabilities will allow….For me, 9-11 destroyed more than buildings and landmarks and the lives of nearly 3000 innocents and their families. That day marked the breaking of America’s heart and psyche and blinded our eyes to a common dream that once stood as a beacon of hope to the world.

If we, as Americans, can’t see it (or don’t believe in it) any more, how can anyone else?


  1. OMG, you are right! Be right back, jumping off a bridge.

    Edit: Back. Stupid low rise bridges over the River Charles get me every time. But a good swim has cheered me up. :)

  2. Conan, I'm in such a funk lately, that's probably a really good idea (the swim!).


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