The American dream is a slogan that has not lived to its goals. Those who coined the term envisaged a society marked by equality, freedom, and socio-economic opportunities. While successive regimes have tried to live true to the dream’s ideals, the challenges persist. Notably, cases of racism still exist in the 21st century. In addition, gender inequalities are yet to be fully addressed. These and many other barriers to an equal and democratic society explain why the American dream is a nightmare.
The American Dream
The American dream creates an equal opportunity and chance for upward mobility regardless of background. James Truslow is credited for coining the term in Epic of America’s bestseller. The belief projects America as a great nation, a just society where anyone can thrive by investing in hard work. The dream recognizes the need for freedom where citizens democratically choose their leaders. It also grants property rights to people and gives them the right to self-determination. It further describes a society governed by the rule of law. This view has been sustained within and outside the US. Consequently, America continues to be attractive to legal and illegal immigrants. Bruce Springsteen, in his song American land, captures perfectly captures the urge to live in the US. The line “There are diamonds in the sidewalks…beer flows through the faucets…” paints the US as the ultimate destination for immigrants (Chouana 2510). Post world war, America has positioned itself as the benchmark of democracy.
The dream was meant to level all barriers for an equal society and allow anyone to accumulate wealth, access quality education, work for decent pay and lead a dignified life. The ideals of the American dream can be likened to Miller’s Tragedy and the Common Man. The author postulates that hero status can be attained by anyone regardless of social standing. Contextually, tragedy is an aura of possibility where anyone can thrive and reach success or write a story different from their background. The author writes, “I believe that the common man is as apt a subject for tragedy in its highest sense as kings were” (Miller 1). However, Arthur argues out that society can limit an individual’s success. The view puts the American dream in balance and helps understand why the dream has taken a divergent trajectory. The US described in the American dream remains a mirage to inhabitants while giving those outside the borders false hope. The dream is utopian when measured against reality in aspects of equality, freedom, economic opportunities, and even some elements of democracy.
Democracy Inspires Materialism
Having experienced American democracy, Alexis De Tocqueville made an important observation of American society. While glorifying the US as the epitome of equality, he warned that the same could lead individuals to materialism and consumerism. He noted that “A native of the United States clings to his world’s goods as if he were never to die” (De Tocqueville 161). Allen Ginsberg seems to agree with Alexis’s thoughts on consumerism. In his poem A Supermarket in California, the poet talks of a society whose economy has seen significant shifts. The author visualizes a lonely and out-of-place Whitman trying to find answers to today’s consumerism behavior “I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely…” (Ginsberg 1). While creating business opportunities for all, the American dream has exposed the citizens to toxic capitalism and nurtured a culture of individualism. Alexis also warned that American democracy would grow to tyrannical levels that would trample the freedoms of the minority. An honest reflection of the American society today is precisely what Alexis observed as the majority rule over the minority, thus negating the ideals of the American dream.
Challenges of Labor Inequalities
While the US continues to portray an image of equality and justice, the reality confirms otherwise. Not all citizens enjoy equal employment opportunities in the US today. Male, for instance, have elevated job chances than females with the same qualification. Women workers also earn less as compared to their male counterparts. Studies have shown that African Americans struggle to earn placement compared to whites. The problem seems to have been carried over from slavery to modern society. Like in the case of women workers, employees of African descent suffer from wage disparities. This discrimination in the labor market creates gender and racial inequalities on the economic front. It denies an equal opportunity for the same effort invested by different citizens. The difference in income, for instance, creates an induced social gap between the low and high-income earners, stretching economic gaps with gender and racial lines. Therefore, discrimination in the labor market defeats the purpose and objectives of the American dream.
Education Cost and Unemployment
The rise in education costs and shrinking employment opportunities make the American dream a nightmare. Education should be a right given to all and not a privilege as currently witnessed. Countries like Germany and Finland show other nations that education is a government obligation. However, a college education in America is a privilege for those who can afford it. The situation creates inequality with those with money attaining higher education levels. This form of discrimination extends to the job market because education is a significant determinant of placement. Unemployment is also a problem in the US that makes the American dream a nightmare. The 2008 recession and the current Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the problem. It is unfair to spend much in education aided by loans and end up jobless in a country known to the world as having opportunities for all. Therefore, by failing to create job opportunities and make college education accessible to all, the US is failing to actualize the American dream.
The high taxation and high cost of healthcare services create income inequalities, a threat to the American dream. High taxation is a norm in the US today, which kills the business spirit. It takes away opportunities from the business community by discouraging them not to engage in commerce. The high taxes are also transferred to consumers creating a high cost of living. As noted by Winston Churchill, no nation can prosper by heavily taxing its citizens. The high taxation combined with unemployment constricts wealth opportunities. Another social problem complicating the lives of Americans is the high cost of medical services. The increase in premiums has not been proportionate to the pay rise. Therefore high taxation and healthcare costs decrease worker earnings creating income inequalities.
In conclusion, the American dream continues to be a nightmare for successive regimes mainly because of bad policies and partly due to contemporary dynamics such as economic recessions and pandemics. Gender and racial inequalities persist in the labor market while the government creates artificial disparities in access to a college education. This extends to the healthcare sector, where not all Americans access this essential service. The rise in taxes also makes the business environment unconducive against the ideals of the American dream calling for a supportive society. These challenges make the attainment of the American dream nightmare.
De Tocqueville, Alexis. 8. Democracy in America. Columbia University Press, 2016.
Chouana, Khaled. “Reflections on the American Dream in the Views and Songs of Bruce Springsteen.” Dirasat: Human and Social Sciences 43.3 (2016): 2507-2518.
Ginsberg, Allen. “A Supermarket in California by Allen Ginsberg | Poetry Foundation.” Poetry Foundation, 2021, Web.
Miller, Arthur. “Tragedy and the Common Man.” Archive.Nytimes.Com, 2021, Web.