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American Dream in Danger?
American Dream
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October 10, 2008

Amidst talk of a second Great Depression, many Americans are wondering what's become of "The American Dream." Wondering if, indeed, their children will be better off than they are — or if they can even hold on to what they have now.

As part of the Deepening the American Dream project, THE JOURNAL has been asking guests and viewers for their visions of the future of the American Dream. Is the American Dream in danger? Or is there more to the American Dream than what we once thought? Peruse the dreams below and then add yours on the Deepening the American Dream blog.

SCOTT BITTLE: Photo by Robin Holland I think my vision for the future of the American dream would be an America where the public is really engaged in making the decisions that affect their daily lives. Right now, of course, we have elections where people make choices. But the fact is, in this country, we treat politics like it's sports...It's about being engaged in decisions between elections, in their daily lives, so people feel they have control, they have a say, that their voice counts. These are things we're really lacking right now. And I don't think we can have the American dream without that.

Why a "Dream"? Dreams are nothing but passive wishfulness. Dreaming about owning a home (the classic cliche of the American Dream) does not make it happen. Have we become a society of dreamers rather than doers, who think of lotteries and casinos as places to invest? We can dream all we want about a better life and a better world, but dreaming won't make it happen. Personal commitment and action will. Posted by: Margaret Page

JANE MAYER: Photo by Robin Holland As a reporter I have to say that I hope we live in a country where people can get great and balanced information and newspapers can still deliver it.

Here's a way to redirect mainstream media in covering the American Dream. "JOURNALISTIC ETHICS 101." Or, If God had sent Commandments to Editors and Reporters instead of Moses. 1. Thou shalt understand that not everything deserves two points of view. 2. Thou shalt print first the questions not answered. 3. Thou shalt not just print press releases. 4. Thou shalt honor requests for private confidences except when it comes from a public official. 5. Thy news department shalt tell thy marketing department to stuff it where the sun never shines. 6. Thou shalt not send thy entire press corps to cover one sex trial. 7. Thou shalt not covet thy competitors' access to power. 8. Thou shalt always reveal when the officials are angry or arrogant. 9. Thou shalt not deceive the public. 10. Thou shalt confine editorial opinions to the editorial pages where they are disclosed as such. C.A. Hillestad (Cannon Beach, OR)
GLENN LOURY: Photo by Robin Holland What I hope for with the American dream is that we as a nation would adopt the capacity for constructive self-criticism to a greater degree than we have done. And not rest on our laurels; and not be content to pat ourselves on the back — the greatest nation in the history of the world, the freest country in the world, the propagator of the values of progress — and so on. But that we would come to be able to learn from our mistakes.
We need no 'American Dream.' What we desperately need is humility. We need to understand that we are only one small part of existence on this magnificent stage of earth. We need to acknowledge our interdependence with all other humans, with all other species, and with the vast natural gifts of this extraordinary planet. We need to understand that we are all in this together and that our survival will depend upon our ability to place ourselves in proper perspective and then learn how to dwell within natural boundaries. Or not. Humility would be good. Especially for Americans. Not dreams. Mary (Iowa)
PHILIP PAN: Photo by Robin Holland I guess my vision for the future of the American dream would be this continues to be a country that welcomes people from around the world, and people coming from different backgrounds and different situations. People, especially, I think, people who are facing hardship overseas. This country continues to bring them here and give them opportunity.
To me the American Dream is the recognition that to be American is not a monolithic ideal. It is the appreciation, respect and love of a milieu of cultures. It is not tolerance. You tolerate bad manners. You love others. Robert Burch (Georgia)

JONATHAN LANDAY: Photo by Robin Holland I want to be an optimist about where the American dream is and where it's going, but it's really hard in these circumstances. And I think maybe we're going to have to start redefining what the American Dream is. The American Dream, for a long time, was powered by petroleum and easy credit and values that have been severely compromised in recent years. And I think in order to restore the American dream or at least reconstitute it in a more modest way, we're going to have to reexamine all of that and come to new conclusions and ideas about how we incorporate those into the future of this country.

We cannot do anything until we are willing to radically change our addiction to oil and dependence on the decisions and understandings of those who only seek power. The American dream was about not being beholden to anyone in life financially, morally, or in any other way that makes the powerful more so. It was never about things, but about being. I want my grandchildren and every other child of this country to be able to BE. Glenda Turck (Killeen, TX)
SAMUEL RODRIGUEZ: Photo by Robin Holland There must be a prophetic element [to the American Dream]. Prophetic means speaking truth, truth telling, truth to power, justice, righteousness. Addressing the issues of those that are around us in need. Caring for every single person around us. The collectiveness of the village, the culture, of looking beyond ourselves. And making sure that at the end of the day, we leave a lot more behind than we ever take away.
Let's quit building fences, both here and abroad, and become bigger than our little selves. I want to manifest in my small self the ideals upon which this country was founded: hope and freedom, a land of boundless opportunity. I myself can only do that one person at a time by meeting the person in front of me. We are, after all, a land of immigrants. Those we attempt to keep out and those we attack are, after all, us. Walt Kelly says it best in Pogo: "We have met the enemy...and he is us." Rick Wright (Cleburne, TX)
Photo by Robin Holland

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: I also think of a country that doesn't have as downsized a politics of excluded alternatives that we live with now. And that citizens are allowed — given the space in our culture and politics and media — to unshackle their imaginations and think boldly about what their dreams are. Because there's no one dream.

I think that the American dream is to build institutions and communities that allow individuals to pursue what is deeply personal and meaningful to them without becoming alienated or marginalized. We've bumped up against this dream, but it is still largely elusive. Maybe sometime in the next 25 - or even 250 - years we'll get this right. Ron Davison (Chula Vista, CA)

A FINAL THOUGHT

One way to look at the American Dream is through the prism of some of this nation's greatest authors.

The American Dream is Gatsby, is Huck, is Raoul Duke. It is a striving and a battle for those things which Humanity can never fully put their fingers on, cannot grasp, but know in the soul to be essential, self-evident, and better than any coin or any grand applause.

As Thomas Paine said, "The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind." It is our cause, and in a greater sense, our duty, to see America become the bloom of Humanity as it was (or even if it wasn't) aimed to be.

As a nation we have a choice — we can die alone, floating in our own individual pools, or we can clasp Jim's hand, put tires to Highway 60, and blaze into the sun of what America and Humanity can and ought to be.
Posted by: J. E. Sherwood

Several months ago, we asked viewers what books they thought the next president should have on his reading list. See what they picked and add your own suggestions.

Guest photos by Robin Holland

Published October 10, 2008.

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