The American Dream is quite a well-defined ethos described in publications by many US philosophers and politicians. It is an expression often meant to reflect the tangible and spiritual ideals of the American population. This term was first used in James Adams’ book on history in order to motivate Americans during the Great Depression, a crisis that affected various strata of society.
Overall, the concept behind the American Dream is interpreted as the freedom to take advantage of plentiful opportunities to achieve prosperity and success, irrespective of your background, ethnicity or social status. It is about abiding laws, playing by the rules, believing in yourself, striving for success and having faith in traditional values (family, church, respect for the elderly and love for children). As a result, even a poor black migrant can become president or the greatest scientist the world has ever seen. The great American Dream always meant that anyone who worked hard, regardless of their circumstances of birth, could climb to the very top of the social ladder, even to reach the White House.
Quite a lot of books have been written and many songs have been sung about the American Dream. This ethos is celebrated in films, and is the main theme of many plays and musicals. The United States perseveres in its attempts to convince the world that it is the most democratic nation on the planet and, hence, an ideal place where anyone has an opportunity to achieve the American Dream, which, in reality, is a myth at present.
Clearly, even in the past, this was not always true, but nowadays, it is blatantly clear that without millions in a bank account or rich friends, no one has a chance to be elected to the Senate or the House of Representatives. After all, there is another important but far from obvious aspect to the American Dream. An individual’s worth depends on his or her social and economic status, success turns him or her into a saint of sorts, while failure into a pariah who everyone tries to avoid. This is the flip side of this ideological concept or its behind-the-scenes politics. Less than 10% of the US population, whose annual income is from $1.5 to 2.5 million, exert a decisive influence on all the aspects of the nation’s life, i.e. education, transport, commerce, science and health care.
Nowadays, numerous reports, including those published by US media outlets, are about the end of the American Dream.
Donald Trump’s rival during the previous presidential campaign, Bernie Sanders, emphasized in one of his speeches that 40 million people lived in poverty in one of the richest nations in the world, while 40% of the US population could not even afford basic necessities. These numbers are shocking and seemingly more applicable to third world countries. But the explanation is quite simple.
Clearly, the issue here is not Donald Trump but the government system itself, as it allows a very uneven distribution of national wealth (of one of the richest countries in the world) among its population. Since the beginning of the 1990s, the average income of the poorer half of the US population rose by only 2.3% (taking into account the inflation), while the GDP increased by 23%. Hence, the rich are getting richer while the poor not only become even poorer but even go bankrupt. Data from the IMF (the International Monetary Fund) confirms this trend. Nowadays, young professionals are earning less than their parents did several decades ago.
The younger generation of Americans clearly understands that most of them do not have a chance to reach a higher social status than that of their parents. And at present, the new US elite is establishing an entire social and political system aimed at preserving the inequality for years to come. The issue is exacerbated even further by prestigious universities that are supposedly meant to educate the most talented people, but, in reality, they have a different purpose, which is to ensure the sons and daughters of the new elite procreate with each other. In 1985, 54% of the students attending the best universities were from three of the lowest strata of the society and, in 2010, this number was 33%. Today the percentage is even lower! This state of affairs reflects the tough social reality, i.e. making money is an individual’s ultimate goal. In this environment, the suicide rate among the younger generation (i.e. individuals under 34 years of age) has increased by 28% since the beginning of the century, which gives one food for thought: “What are the reasons for this trend?”.
One indelible aspect of the American Dream of any age is the ability to own a home and to gain financial independence from one’s parents, but few millennials in the US can boast of such an achievement. According to the United States Census Bureau, the homeownership rate among them has fallen to record lows to reach 13.2%. ATTOM Data Solutions conducted a study using available statistics on salaries and prices for real estate in all the US states, which showed that, on average, 73% of Americans were not able to purchase a home. Not being able to afford to buy real estate here refers to their inability to make the initial deposit of 3% and subsequent monthly payments.
After the mass shootings in recent months, people in the United States have begun talking about a new form of vigilante justice. CNN has reported that more and more Americans, i.e. Hispanics, African Americans, Muslims, Jews and anyone else who is not viewed as sufficiently “Caucasian”, are living in as much fear as a hundred years ago. American white supremacist Dylann Roof, who killed 9 people in a Charleston church (South Carolina) in 2015, stated that he had committed the atrocity because African Americans were prone to violence and “killed white people in the streets on a daily basis”. A characteristic element of white supremacist rhetoric is the emphasis on dehumanizing people.
Recently, the Pew Research Center published a report that reflected just how pessimistic Americans were about the future of their country. Seventy three percent of respondents stated that the inequality crisis would get worse by 2050. Those surveyed include 75% Democrats and 71% Republicans, i.e. there is noticeable bipartisan agreement on this issue. Many also believe that adults would be less financially prepared to retire by 2050. Eighty two percent of respondents expect that there will be mass unemployment in the future due to the advent of artificial intelligence and automation. The participants of the survey also forecast that the American Empire will collapse in the next three decades. And 60% of Americans say that the United States will lose its global status.
As the Zero Hedge blog reports, these gloomy forecasts, in part, reflect Americans’ current mood. The future of the American Empire is uncertain and so is the survival of this nation.
Hence, it is nor surprising that approximately 16% of Americans wish to permanently immigrate to another country, as they no longer believe in the American Dream. This is what the data collected by analytics and advisory company Gallup shows. The report also noted that these were record numbers since surveys of this nature had begun.
Vladimir Odintsov, expert politologist, exclusively for the online magazine ‘New Eastern Outlook’.