I grew up in the first American Dream, where returning soldiers from World War II were greeted by new suburbs, with cute ranch-style homes on quiet cul-de-sacs, surrounded with green grass and white picket fences. That American Dream was filled with square deals: military service earned veterans’ benefits. A union job earned a square deal of pay and benefits. Income disparity between the rich and poor was minimal (relative to the present), as we all sacrificed in the war effort, so we all deserved fair treatment in the workforce. Of course, “we all” were nondisabled, heterosexual, white people, as racism, anti-semitism, sexism, homophobia, and a hatred of foreigners still persisted in this American Dream. It was an exclusionary White dream to be sure. An additional flip side of this dream was the largess gained from the new American Empire, with massive income streams driven by our growing worldwide domination and exploitation as we surged past Britain and Japan and China was not yet on the horizon.
Now, more than 70 years after World War II, other marginalized peoples in the US have fought for their access to some version of the American Dream, from the Civil Rights movement to women’s rights, gay rights, Native rights, and more.
Contemporaneously, since my post-WW II childhood, the first American Dream was rolled back, replaced by a new American Dream. This second dream is the American Lottery Dream, where somehow, one can suddenly get rich through talent or luck, just as the currently wealthy were either luckily born rich or talented. This new dream undermined union power, as individual workers abandoned solidarity for the dream of individual wealth. A friend of mine, while he worked at a homeless shelter during the Reagan administration, polled homeless people about their presidential preferences. The people he polled were vastly in favor of reelecting Reagan because he offered the best pathway toward becoming rich, even though his policies escalated homelessness. This was in the 1980s, near the beginning of the American Lottery Dream, which I believe started during the Me Generation of the 1970s, based on the myth of class mobility.
The American Lottery Dream is literally expressed in the massive numbers of Americans that play various lotteries, along with other forms of gambling, which accounts for more than $70 billion in US spending per year. The media did not play up the wealth of celebrities much in the post war era that I grew up in. Today, the wealth of celebrities (they won the Talent Lottery) and their power (e.g. Donald Trump) is constantly played up–at a high volume–in today’s mainstream and social media. It is easy to see how young people, growing up today, may dream of becoming a “rich celebrity” against the nightmare of becoming a “poor nobody.” When their personal American Lottery Dream fails legitimately, it is also not surprising that young people turn to the crime or drugs version.
In the context of the American Lottery Dream, Donald Trump’s popularity makes sense, but what are we to think of Bernie Sander’s popularity? Is his social democratic dream more like an improved original American Dream? A dream filled with the security of square deals: a union job earning decent pay and benefits, income disparity between the rich and poor becoming minimal once again, and American life becoming fairer to all diverse peoples, domestic and foreign. This mirrors the European Dream, which is also much less violent than the current American Experience. 2016 may be the Year of American Dream Redefinition. Stay tuned.