What exactly is the American Dream, anyway? The answer changes with every person you ask, but the general feeling is that, if you just work hard enough, sacrifice enough of the best years of your life, you will be rewarded with a modicum of prosperity. It used to be home ownership, but that now seems out of reach for the majority of us. It used to be a family, but many among us fear that they do not have the resources to provide for said offspring, so they are abstaining. It used to be the notion that you could work one job and provide for yourself, and for those who depended upon you, but that hasn’t been achievable for decades. Maybe it’s that your voice will be counted in this representative democracy of ours, that is, if the politicians haven’t managed to redistrict you into obscurity, or allowed themselves to be purchased wholesale by corporate interests, more concerned about short-term profitability than long-term sustainability. And besides, at this country’s founding, the only people allowed to vote were land-owning white males, so the idea that your vote actually counts is a recent notion, and delusional, at best. The American Dream, whatever it may actually be, seems more like a fever-induced nightmare for so many of us at this point, that maybe it’s finally time that we wake up.
Do I love my country? A silly thing to ask, especially on her birthday, but a question without an easy answer. In regard to the ideals for which this nation stands, at least to me, then yes, I would have to say that I do. But in practice, I cannot even bring myself to acknowledge it as we pass one another in the frozen foods aisle of the discount supermarket. Maybe I am only so disappointed in the land of my birth because I see just how far we apart we stand from those ideals, and how we’ve let ourselves be led into civic impotence by the flow of money and retention of elected officials who have only their pocketbooks and status in mind as they consistently fail to enact any legislation which might actually benefit a larger swath of people than the super-rich. I understand that one might feel beholden to the money which got him elected, and which he’ll need if he wants to get elected again, but the disparity is glaring, and the only reason that no one can do anything about it is that we are constantly pitted against one another, squeezed forcefully into arbitrary boxes and told that anyone who disagrees hates America, and that it’s up to us to save it, while also being reminded of just how little our voice matters, in the grand scheme of things, so why even bother?
George Washington was unabashedly against the division of our representatives into political parties, saying of the political party:
“It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.”
He saw what the parties of the day (Federalist and Whig) were beginning to represent, and he tried to speak out against it, much as Eisenhower tried to warn America about the looming threat of the military industrial complex. And, much as it was with Eisenhower, the warning was generally ignored. Both the Whig and Federalist parties managed to implode, giving rise to the Republican and Democratic parties with which we are currently burdened today. Never mind that the stances of the parties at their inception more resemble that of their opposition, these two juggernauts have been on the national stage for so long, it seems unlikely we will ever rid ourselves of them. And while it continues to require obscene quantities of cash to even entertain the notion of running for office, national or otherwise, I don’t believe that we will ever be free of them. They are large, unwieldy beasts, the both of them, able to direct gushing rivers of capital toward the candidates of their choosing. There are very few examples of independents (outside of very local markets) who have ever hoped to compete against these two storied institutions. And so third-party candidates are most often relegated to the role of the “vote-splitter”, should they even make it to prominence on the ballot.
Here’s the thing: we are not the sum of the issues which our political party has decided for us. I know Democrats who like guns, and Republicans who don’t hate gays. I know Democrats who believe in a god, and Republicans who don’t much care for war. No one whom I’ve spoken to thinks that our representatives are doing even close to a decent job, and I can’t think of a single person who likes the fact that abortions exist. To be clear on that last point, abortions are never anyone’s first choice. They are invasive procedures that can (and have) scarred the mother, emotionally and physically. And yet, sometimes they may be necessary. It is up to the woman to decide. But no one, I believe, would prefer to use abortion as their preferred method of birth control. The point is that we do not always toe our party line, and often are forced to vote for people who are the lesser of two evils, sometimes just to prevent a political majority in one or more houses of Congress. It shouldn’t be this way.
My solution is to abolish political parties, get corporate (and yes, union) money out of elections, publicly fund candidates equally, so that we can vote our consciences instead of checking a line of boxes based upon whether they are preceded by an “R” or “D”. I also think that representatives in Congress should make no more than the minimum wage in their district, and have access to only the benefits which are available to the worst-off of their constituents. This, of course, will never happen. There’s too much money to be made in the purchase and ownership of congresspeople. But I don’t think that we will accomplish anything close to resembling an American Dream for everybody until we do something.
Happy Birthday, America.