The “American Dream” conjures up a powerful image, yet it is one rooted in the past than in the future. If we think of it uncritically, it embodies hope, equality, opportunity, fortune, liberty, wealth and aspiration. We warmly imagine the scene of European migrants arriving at Ellis Island by boat in the early 20th century, gazing at the statue of Liberty in the distance as a bringer of their long awaited search for a new life. The atmosphere, vibes and bustling scenes of 1920s New York City flows through our minds- we develop empathy with the new arrivals, we recognize what must have been going through their minds at that time. Such was symbolic of all America was made out to be, a dream, a fantasy and utopia for the poor and oppressed.
Yet, these warm and glowing images are rooted in a thick nostalgia, fading to a pale and murky complexion as we fast forwards to contemporary America. For whatever reason, few people associate what we imagine as the “American Dream” with the present day. Whilst undoubtedly there are millions of people out there who could only dream of living in such a prosperous country, for all too many that “dream” and the hopes we assigned to it are history. Not least, for the American people themselves. The election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States has became symbolic of a divided, broken and disfigured nation, a pathology to a ill-functioning and cynical society. Never in living memory, be it from those who are loathing Trump’s election or the disillusioned and frustrated voters who propelled him to power, has American politics been characterized with such scathing anger or a sense of despair. In this regard, to everyone it seems the “American Dream” is but a fading memory, its meaning in people’s present lives has been completely lost.
However, the American dream was never more than what it professed to be, a dream, not a reality; a popular depiction of a nation viewed from the outside as an opportunity for self-realization and for many within, a sense of being and belonging. Whether it was personal freedom or religious freedom, America captured hearts and minds. It has been the engine of global popular culture, business, finance, science and media for the turn of a century. Yet for all these achievements and all these triumphs, there were deep divisions, tensions and problems hidden deep beneath the surface, unresolved and ignored for centuries, all of which would cause a nation commonly associated with progress to slowly proceed down a path of self-capitulation that now seems inescapable.
Those outside may have envisioned the American dream, but on the inside tensions have prevailed because the “opportunity” it was once categorized with has been lost. For the white working collar voters, how can the vastly unequal layout of the American economy prove to be the dream their ancestors envisioned? For African Americans, how can the dream of liberation from a history of slavery, oppression and discrimination be actualized through the same dramatic economic and social inequalities? and not least, through the institutional racism of the police? For Hispanic voters, how can the American Dream they really hope to achieve be possible when rhetoric such as a “Build a wall!” and “mass deportations!” now looms over their futures?
Thus, the deep set inequality, injustice and static nature of American politics and society has stumbled in the face of change, wiping away the dreams of the past. Barack Obama was a strong, inspiring and good willed character whom even when you disagreed with him, you could never find you disliked him as a person. He understood America’s troubles, yet trapped through the gridlock of congress, the lobbyist oligarchy and multi-layered prison of constraints and other interests he was rendered a lame duck, powerless in the continual static to halt his nations retrogression. His Presidency, unfairly to him, categorised the polarisation of American society as discontent, division and anger boiled through financial crisis and poor economic performances, breaking through the surface it had long been hidden under and manifesting itself in counterproductive ways. Thus, the most shocking thing now is that from the “hope” widely envisioned in his election in 2008, is the end result. His successor? Donald Trump. Just let that sink in. If that is so, what is left of Obama’s legacy? From the the man who spoke of peace, progress and unity, to “ban all Muslims!”, “build a wall” and “grab ’em by the p***y!” in the space of just eight years, it seems like a bad dream, but it isn’t.
What we see now is the pace America is unraveling, not least the demise of the American dream. Too much faith in liberal capitalist ideology, a constitution which can not be seriously changed, an economy which only exists to serve people like Donald Trump (ironically) and a self-righteous, crusading foreign policy, is what has finally got us to where we are now. The American system risks becoming an anachronism to the challenges of the modern world. I grasp the anger, the frustration and the sense of disempowerment those who voted Donald Trump feel, as well as those who couldn’t bring themselves to turn out and vote for Hilary. It manifests an astonishing lack of faith in the status quo, yet he is not the answer, neither was Hilary- if Obama himself wasn’t, then what does that hold for the future?
Without a doubt, the American dream is over, an uncertain and unstable future awaits. Even if Donald Trump is not a disaster in the sense people fear he will be, he will begin as the most despised, unpopular and opposed President in American history and as his predecessor found, there’s nothing he can do about it.