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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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The Next American Dream

No other two-word phrase (a family-friendly one, at least) evokes such a strong reaction from me that a bone-chilling shiver races down my spine: the American Dream.

It’s not something you hear much about anymore. While lauded for providing a singular, national ethos to a veritably enormous population of disparate origins and cultures, it is simultaneously vilified in the most vicious way for the great lie of life-fulfilling wealth and happiness it promised. Those who have achieved it remember it as a goal worthy of veneration in the highest traditions of America. However, those left disillusioned by the fruitless journey to attain it realize the ultimate ‘land of opportunity’ is no more fertile than the next.

Some think the American Dream consists of nothing more than increasing the number of digits in your net worth. Certainly, material gains attracted the masses of immigrants who have built-through considerable expenditure of blood, sweat, and tears-a nation so great that even the most Facebook-deprived villager in the most remote corner of the world has heard its name and, perhaps, dreamed of one day living there. But such a definition is deceptive in its simplicity. People did not dream of owning a home, picket fence, and car because of avarice, but rather because these material things symbolized a new apex that they hoped to reach, an Everest that they felt compelled to climb. In critiquing the American Dream, people tend to forget that it was really about a dream, not four bedrooms, two baths, and a kitchen. In striving for the dream, Americans hoped to transcend the cruel boundaries that poverty and repression had commanded them to obey. It is from that fact that America’s success has so spiritedly sprung.

We can bicker all we want as Democrats and Republicans, flag-burning liberals and bible-thumping conservatives, just as we did in the past as bluecoats and greycoats, Democrats and Whigs, Federalists and Anti-Federalists. In the final analysis, however, America is a land of progress and it is in our national character to always move forward. Unlike other countries, we do not have the ever-so-convenient glue of religion, culture, or language to bind us together. What we do have is the ‘American Dream,’ an aspiration for better things. And all we need do is peruse the disheartening pages of a single newspaper today to know that Americans can make ample use of better things right now.

Though we once defined ‘better’ through the prism of material wealth, we must aim even higher for our next American Dream. The United States has already risen to greatness on the back of one dream, so why not another? We don’t need houses and cars this time, and surely our wildest material needs have been more than adequately met in comparison to the rest of the world. The objects of our next dream will be difficult to attain, but so worthy of our values, necessary even, that we will gladly sacrifice to achieve them, much as our parents did before us. There are many unfulfilled aims that merit our pursuit, such as a healthy environment to live in, a healthcare system that reflects the nation’s values and keeps all of its citizens healthy, and equal rights for every American, regardless of the classifications we use to divide ourselves.

It is too easy to dismiss environmentalists and ‘green’ activists as alarmists at best, loons at worst. Unless we are willing to suddenly abandon centuries’ worth of adherence to logic and science, we must simply admit that climate change is a fact, whether or not it is caused by human activity. Even if we are not concerned about a worldwide change in temperature of a few degrees, we know the local effects of our environmental disregard. No sane person would, upon first moving into their new house, throw a never-ending party of the most hedonistic quality that their home is eventually razed to the ground. So why do we? America is our home, and the world is humanity’s. We’ve partied long enough, and it is time to clean up before mom and dad get home.

The public debate over healthcare has been so muddied with distractions-most notably by radio and cable ‘news’ entertainers-that we have lost focus on the issues at hand. Our recent foray into corporate socialism notwithstanding, we have always valued private enterprise and agency as the primary vehicle for growth in America. While we prefer to keep our taxes low and our services privatized, by no means do Americans shun government solutions to serious common problems. We are relieved to watch firemen save our neighbors when their house is ablaze, so are we not equally concerned when they are threatened by disease? We value postal services, security, and education for ourselves and our community so much that we have a government to provide them for all. And yet, this has not stopped private alternatives-FedEx, hired security, private school-from flourishing, so why are we suddenly willing to believe that healthcare reform will be the end of capitalism? Accessible healthcare is far too important to let die an undignified death at the claws of fear-mongers and political partisans.

It took us almost a hundred years to end slavery, well over a hundred to recognize a woman’s right to vote, and almost two shameful centuries to enforce voting rights for blacks. In recognizing that we have been and continue to be imperfect, we enable ourselves to move forward and improve American freedoms. Recognizing the equality of homosexuals as fellow citizens in the law is the logical next step if we are to fulfill our role as that ‘city upon a hill’ that John Winthrop envisaged. Some oppose gay marriage on the grounds that it threatens the sanctity of marriage as defined by religion. Recognizing the rights of gays and lesbians to marry, as many governments already have, simply will not destroy religion nor do harm to anyone’s legitimate beliefs. Refusing to do so, however, will do very real and very serious injury to our national values of freedom and equality under the law. We are American because of what we believe; if we abandon those beliefs, we are absolutely nothing.

While you may very well disagree with the aims of the next American Dream, it cannot be denied that we need one. Ours has always been a nation of progress, sometimes at a sluggish pace, sometimes feverish. Where we see problems, we must fix them. Whether we are liberals or conservatives, we have a duty to the generations before us and the many generations that will come after to put our American Dreams into action, whatever they may be.

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