The American Dream, re-defined

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‘We must continue to go forward as one people, as brothers and sisters.’ John Lewis 

After three and a half years of an unfit leadership, America has become unrecognizable. We are a deeply divided nation. We lost our moral compass. We no longer stand as a distinctive global beacon of hope. We are a confused giant, threatening internally and externally the very values of democracy and freedom that we once so actively promoted and defended.

Granted, America was never perfect. Our history is full of inexcusable examples of behavior deeply antithetic to a fair society, and is plagued by abhorrent discrimination including such extremes as slavery, racial and gender segregation, and near annihilation of native people. Still, there was an underlying sense of goodness and drive in our people—a ‘can do’ and ‘do the right thing’ attitude that was inspiring and wholesome. Shortcomings non-withstanding, we were making progress to become a better and more equitable society.

The American Dream epitomized what we aspired to be. Coined by James Truslow Adams in his 1931 best-seller “Epic of America,” the term referred to the ‘dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.’ During the Great Depression and beyond, America wholeheartedly embraced this vision and made it its own.

Under Mr. Trump, though, we have fallen into the American Nightmare. Ability and achievement are undervalued, discrimination is rampant, attacks on basic freedoms come from our own government. Military-style force is being used to suppress constitutionally protected protests, under misleading pretenses. Civil dialogue is rare. Bipartisanship is a mirage. Our global moral authority, or even basic credibility, are drastically eroded if not vanished. Our lives are unimaginably confined and we are dying unnecessarily, because of a pandemic that we should have handled far better.

Mr. Trump embodies our present nightmare. He bears undeniable responsibility. His ignorance, ego, and lack of principles are staggering. His moral authority and leadership skills are non-existent. His never taking responsibility is utterly non-American. His sole talents are to lie, obfuscate and divide.

But Mr. Trump cannot serve as our excuse. We did this to ourselves. A more confident and wiser America would have discarded his presidential bid as frivolous. Instead, we elected him, and are now paying a devastating price for a predictably disastrous choice. Stronger, better Congressional leaders would have used the balance of powers engraved in our Constitution to mitigate his impact as an unfit president. Instead, Republicans lacked principles or courage, and Democrats lacked numbers and (on occasion) skill to be effective counterpoints.

We can and must fix this. The road ahead is neither simple nor unique. But there is a path, if we re-embrace and upgrade the American Dream as the essence of whom we are.

As per the original vision, let’s make it so that anyone has the opportunity to attain success. Let’s enable upward mobility to be limited only by drive, hard work, sacrifice and risk-taking on the individual’s part. But let’s pro-actively reduce obstacles and create safety nets that allow hard-earned failures to be learning experiences, rather than dead ends. Also, let’s not forget that upward mobility does not trample human rights, or decency.

In fact, let’s use more holistic measures than just money or social status, when referring to upward mobility. Let’s recognize that individual success is not enough. Success is most complete when it is entraining, bringing along surrounding communities and future generations. It needs to be accomplished without sacrificing environmental sustainability and social justice. It should not be a zero sum game, where someone’s success requires someone else’s diminishing.

This re-energized, more collective American Dream requires a national conversation, leading to a new social contract. For this to be achievable, the next President must serve the People, not repress and endanger them; must be a facilitator-in-chief and a consummate consensus builder—not a divider; and must speak clearly, truthfully and with knowledge and empathy, to a country struggling to regain a shared identity and confidence in government.

This November, let’s mandate and enable Joe Biden to be such President, by electing him by a wide margin and by giving his party majorities in both houses of Congress. A product of the American Dream himself, Joe is the right person at the right time. He is experienced, knowledgeable, and decent. With Joe as President, we will be able to face our challenges realistically and competently—so that we can collectively, as one People, dream again.

— Antonio Baptista

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