“Renewing the American Dream”



The American Dream cannot be renewed if it is only FOR the people; doing so places emphasis on what citizens receive and not on what and how they contribute. It cannot be renewed if it is only OF the people; doing so focuses too strongly on the idea of representation and thus robs citizens of their own active participation. The American Dream must be renewed BY THE PEOPLE. Only when we work together can we renew our country, our planet, and ourselves. That is our American Dream for the 21st century. This is our government and our sovereignty. It is time to act like it.


Citizens from all political parties and from no parties at all who were shocked by Trump’s election, who are disappointed in his actions, and/or who are dismayed and appalled by his turn away from the values and norms that define America are looking for an alternative. Plenty of people have taken to the streets, the airwaves, and social media to decry Trump’s policies and to resist what he has done and what he threatens to do. Some even suggest that we as progressives should follow the guidelines of the Tea Party and just say “no” to everything that comes and will come from Congress and the White House.

Protests, marches, demonstrations, boycotts, petitions, and the like are necessary for an opposition, but they are not sufficient. More is needed and, above all else, we progressives need a clear vision and a succinct and expressive message that encapsulates our goal and purpose. “Renewing the American Dream” could be one such message; another might be “By the People.”

The reason for the vision and the message is simple: We need an easily digestible and easily repeatable slogan that encapsulates what we stand for. More important, the vision and the message need to unite the progressives. Too many single issues dissipate progressive movements by creating silos of concern and not an overarching unifying perspective. It is the values and the vision that we share that bring us together and thus out of our single issues. “Indivisible” comes close, but that movement is focused more on tactics that an overall vision.

The vision and the message convey what the movement stands for, what the shared purpose is behind them. In our case, it is renewing the American dream and making that dream a reality. We need an American dream for the 21st century, something that people can visualize, get behind, work toward, and actualize.

The foundational idea behind the American Dream is that each of us should find that if she works hard and plays by the rules, then she will have a life that is financially secure and heavy with opportunities for advancement and fulfillment. Moreover, the life of her children should be even better—more secure, more prosperous, more fulfilling—than hers. In his 1928 presidential campaign, Herbert Hoover encapsulated the idea of the American Dream with the slogan: “a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.” To buy chicken you needed some steady income; to cook it, you needed a pot and a stove that, in Hoover’s view of American prosperity, would be in a kitchen. Indeed, Americans would be so financially successful that there would be a car in every garage. Of course, most garages are attached or close to a house.

Today, many Americans find themselves checking to see whether they can afford chicken, let alone the house that holds the kitchen, the stove, and the pot. Today many Americans struggle to find adequate transportation, let alone a car in a garage. In 1965, when the American Dream seemed a reality to many, a CEO made 20 times what the average worker made. That means that a CEO could put 20 cars in his garages for every one car that a worker put in hers. Today that CEO can have as many as 400 cars in his garages for every one an average worker can buy.

Income inequality is not just a phenomenon between CEO’s and average workers. The children born in 1940 statistically earned more than their parents. But by the 1980’s, as globalization and technological advances took off, as educational attainment declined, and as governmental policies began to favor the rich, the income gap increased, and over 50 percent of the young entering the workforce found their earnings well below that of their parents. The American Dream for the young and especially the poor was in trouble and still is. That trouble helped elect Donald Trump. How can we renew that dream?

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