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Tuesday, 16 June 2015

the American Dream

Nowadays, when I think of America, the beautiful sad 2007 song "Going to a Town", by Canadian-American singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright, comes to my mind (video). I used to associate upbeat songs with that beautiful country. In particular, one line of that Rufus Wainwright song says it all: "You took advantage of a world that loved you well". What has happened?

Perhaps the ultimate answer is that the American Dream is no longer a dream for all. This dream once allowed anybody to become successful regardless of socio-economic background. Few noticed that this dream had already been beaten up in the early 90s and was hospitalised ever since. Until 2000, the booming economy kept this dream alive by the ample use of credit as the patient's oxygen.

It's easy to come up with statistics that evidence that the American Dream is still alive (e.g., Silicon Valley, Wall Street) or dead (e.g., education, healthcare, incarcerations, minimum wage versus cost of living). Your political view determines the balance of the scales.

To me there are at least 4 Americas: the country’s most beautiful nature that I have learned to love so much during my visits, its bewildering people, the amazing imperfections of its system, and its fascinating capability for resilience. For an outsider like me, the fascination takes the upper hand. Yet I genuinely wonder if I could live “happily ever after” in the USA. In time, I would probably prefer the “dull” egalitarian European societies and its inherently higher taxes.

The American Dream is/was the binding element in society. It even justifies the vast differences between the haves and the have nots. When the American Dream would not revamp into version 2.0 then the USA is more likely to become like Mexico than like Canada. In fact, many observations already remind me of Mexico and then I don't even refer to the ever expanding use of Spanish as a national second language.

Mostly, I'm troubled by the continued American political deadlock situation. The USA is still a superpower but mostly from a military perspective and funded by budget deficits. In turn these budget deficits are financed by potential competitors. The USA may well be a superpower running on empty (song). The emerging new Bush or Clinton Administration will further increase the political deadlock situation. The world cannot however afford a continued lame duck US presidency.

Hence, my continued pleas for Europe to finally and formally accept its role as a superpower. Once the American Dream is no longer alive then America’s role as a superpower will be short lived. Domestic issues will soon overtake seemingly remote foreign interests. Europe should – or better: must - prepare to lose its “umbrella”.

In fact, the old world (a.k.a. Europe) might be the only place that will keep the American Dream alive. That version of the American Dream might not make you a billionaire but at least you don't need a safe room in your house or a gated community protecting you from a hostile outside world.

"You wake up in the middle of the night, Your sheets are wet and your face is white. You tried to make a good thing last, How could something so good, go bad, so fast?" Excerpt from American Dream, a 1988 song by Crosby Stills Nash & Young (video).