The American Dream has always been the promise that, if you work hard enough, you will succeed. Traditionally, this idea mostly pertained to economic success (generating wealth). It used to be that those in the working class aspired to be in the middle, those in the middle aspired to be at the top, and those at the top aspired to remain where they were. All across the board, every person in American society understood that they had to work, and work hard, to improve their lives.
It's been said many times that the welfare state, things like medicaid and unemployment benefits hinder this idea. There are those who believe that when the government hands out checks, those who receive them lose their desire to work hard and do better.
Let me say, before I rail against this, that it is partially true. There are some social leeches. There always has been. Even in the golden ages of American prosperity, there have been those who simply took and did not contribute. Today, there are many who don't work, who don't contribute, and who are granted subsidy by the government.
But before you demonize the entire group, I would like to point out that those who don't want to work make up a small minority of those who don't have jobs right now. Most people want to work, especially since the money they get from the government is rather paltry compared to living expenses. Most people understand the value of hard work, and continue to believe that they can have it all if they push themselves.
But the American Dream, like so many other things, is no longer held by America. The ability for Americans to move up the economic and social ladder is disappearing. People are finding that, no matter how hard they work, they can't get ahead. In fact, Canada and many European nations have greater upward mobility than we do.
Why is that? What has changed in America? Different people will tell you different things, but there are a few key problems I see that have contributed. First of all, America is one of the only developed country's without a public health option. I know this is political sin for saying it, but a public option is a staple in many other countries, one that benefits everyone (including businesses). People have access to affordable, comprehensive care, with an emphasis on prevention, which reduces the costs over time. We in America continue to allow private, for-profit companies to dictate our medical needs to us (it's ironic that people railed against the public option because they feared having a complete stranger telling them what they could and could not do for themselves).
Second, the political atmosphere in our government has been one of regressive, pro-business philosophies for a long time. Before Obama, there was Bush Jr, Clinton, Bush Sr, and Reagan, all of whom had pro-business ideas. Private industry has been allowed to disregard law, taxation, regulation, public health, and public safety in the name of profit. They have bankrupted the economy time and again with their business practices. They have fought the rights of American workers. They have continually pushed for greater autonomy, to the point where we now have representatives who believe in absolutely no government oversight and no regulation in the name of "free market Capitalism." This push to maximize profit has led companies to ship jobs overseas, cut the pay of employees, and the result is the massive gap between the wealthy and the poor.
Third, our country has forgotten that the government is not just a group of individuals who make laws and collect taxes. Our government is supposed to be a support system for our country. We have politicians now who say that there should be no help from the government, that the poor must subsist on their own, and that they have only themselves to blame for their situation. But these people don't seem to understand what they are saying. The majority of the poor don't want to be poor. They work hard, but the policies our government has adopted makes their lives more difficult. Our country has become obsessed with spending, and has whittled away the programs and funding that millions of people benefit from. They seek to reduce health care costs, but only for the government and instead place that burden on the people. They cut education, and bemoan our failing schools. They strip funding from Social Security and Medicaid, and then say the system is broken. The more they cut, the more they lay the burden on American People, who have no choice but to take up that slack, and deny themselves comfort so that they can survive.
So many problems. There are so many things wrong in this country and yet, underneath it all, there is a vibrant soul, stronger and greater than any other on earth. America is still the great land of freedom and Democracy. We are the stronghold of justice, the home of honor, and the center of greatness. We have lost our way, stumbled into a self-destructive pattern, one in which people fight for themselves instead of working together. We ignore common sense, we reject the evidence that says we are misguided, and we allow ourselves to continue in this way as if it were the only path to true, patriotic American values.
When the pillars of the American Dream lay in ruin, we still must rebuild them. We can start now, but only if we as a people, together, acknowledge our faults and resolve to come together, regardless of politics and regardless of power, to make changes to our society. It is never too late, but we are slowly becoming ignorant of the slope we have been sliding down. It is time for us to plant our feet, draw our line in the sand, and say "we will not go one more step. We will not go one more day. We will not go through life blind, but will fix what has been broken and will make ourselves great again." When that happens, we will be America once more.