Is the American Dream broken?
The 50th anniversary of “The March” is both a timely reminder about how far we’ve come and of how much we’re stilled mired in old ways of thinking. A year and a week ago in the March on Washington, Dr. Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, which ranks in the pantheon of great deliveries. In it he laid out a dream, a vision about justice and freedom.
Without that event, Barack Obama would likely just be some well-positioned university professor.
At that time, racism and other oppressive power processes were overtly blatant, on full-view for the world to see. The dousing of marchers by Bull Connor with fire hoses gave stark evidence of that reality.
What we witness today is more subtle, genteel racism embodied in officials such as secretaries of state who insist on what they’re doing—seeking out voter fraud—is high-minded, even noble. It’s not, of course. Fifty years ago literacy tests served to deter and prevent minority voting. Today it’s done in other ways: challenging voters’ eligibility and limiting early voting and the number of polling places to make voting more than inconvenient. As Bill Clinton observed, something is wrong when it becomes easier to purchase an assault rifle and bunker-level ammo supplies than to vote.
And it is taking its toll.
We’re wearing down as a people. Obsessive, compulsive even paranoid behavior by a sustained, fundamentalist minority keeps sapping and draining vitality our nation, from everyday people who simply want to pursue happiness. The root of vitality, by the way, is the Latin word for life: vita.
Brene Brown, who has done amazing research on courage, shame, and being vulnerable, suggests that those having difficulty making sense of the world around them, a world they see as chaotic and off course, search for certainty. Often they find it in fundamentalism.
Faith, she says, minus mystery and uncertainty results in fundamentalism, both religious and political, which for them become one and the same.
During the 1960s, the Roman Catholic Church did that in the Vatican II Council: The so-called reforms worked wonders to remove mystery from Catholicism but left dogma and oppressive practices wholly intact.
We have become, notes Brown, the most obese, addicted, and in-debt adult generation in history. Fast foods and other nutrition-starved diets have failed to satisfy our hunger. Instead of being sated, we feel hungry more quickly, craving the same starchy foods that feed that hunger. As a result, we need super-wide airplane seats to accommodate super-wide passengers and, as a result, less baggage in the storage to allow lift off.
Drugs from beer to cocaine have numbed us from our pain. Functioning alcoholics pervade the workforce. Escapism, from frat binge keggers to adult happy hours, is a daily ritual.
The pursuit of material wealth has brought on enormous debt, from the individual to the nation—16 trillion and counting—with the divide between the haves and the have-nots, already greater than at any time in our history, continuing to widen. Record numbers of people are purchasing homes, often for second-use or rentals, with cash while record numbers of others are under water and facing or in foreclosure.
In education, the excitement and mystery and fun and joy of learning have been sucked out of the classroom. In this new age of public school, it’s about testing, sorting, and classifying learners. Learning has become rote, a tedious chore with a specific outcome: production of a consumerist society that will grease the wheels of materialistic capitalism.
The latest gimmick is a color-code sorting the Douglas County School District is exploring. Instead of being an A-student or above proficient learner, students will be categorized green, blue, red, or some other shade of the light spectrum. I wonder if there ought to be a teal category for students who have some green attributes as well as blue. Or perhaps mauve?
Dr. King had a dream, but for many the American Dream has become a nightmare. It need not be that way, however. As I tried to make clear in a previous series of articles, each of us has power, if nothing more than power to say, “hell no.”
Our forefathers and foremothers locked their arms and took up arms, though not the NRA kind, through words and actions. They were and are still called unions. They confronted power brokers. They did not take subsistence survival as good enough.
It will take people awakening from their lethargy to repeat that history.