The American dream is just that; it’s not tangible beyond the concept. At it’s peak in the 1950s, the nation gloried in the good times: bruised, but fresh from victory in the war, they relished their modern homes and shiny chevys, the social progressions of the New Deal, new infrastructure, urbanisation, travel, movie stars and gee-whizz gum chewing positivity. But there was restlessness, both about the past and the uncertainty of the future. America has always been about it’s layers. The shiny new paint job of the 1950s took Americans’ eyes off the witch hunt for leftists, the foulness of slavery and lack of civil rights, and just beyond their shores, the economists push (under CIA protection) for free unregulated economies in South America that were to destroy fragile developmentalist states. The groundwork for what we see today in American culture and politics was well underway in the middle of the 20th century, and the disenfranchised generations were coming.
The veneer has now completely worn away and the fragility and rawness of America is exposed to the realities that it refuses to acknowledge. Millions of people have been left behind. But they never had a hope of getting in front. America is a poor country as much as it is rich, roughly 45 million people live in poverty. It is ignorant as much as it prizes and puts academia on a pedestal: intelligence has become synonymous with elitism which has become a signifier for liberal better than you-ism. It is inward looking at the same time as it sees itself as the global leader. America was so busy being exceptional that it forgot to check if it still was, if it ever was.
The economic meddling in the South American cone of the second half of the 20th century was underway in the U.S. in a ‘gentler’ way. Americans would be unlikely to accept mass torture, disappearance and economic shock to the extent that it was willing to inflict it. But the subtler approach of Reaganomics and Bush’s War on Terror are part of the same narrative- the push for total free market trading, privatisation and individualism. Few would and do benefit. Millions won’t and are left to accept what trickles down (hint: not much). These constructs, the inevitable and progressive automation of industry, urbanisation and the decline of Main St, have decimated small town America.
The Republicans don’t help the poor, that’s not their thing. The Democrats are supposed to provide more social support for those in need, but have also not delivered sufficiently. In the Presidential debates last year only Bernie Sanders focused on poverty to any degree, the mainstream candidates, Democrats and Republicans, all but ignored it. Both sides have met in the middle economically, equally happy to have the banks sitting at the table, and instead, have put their polarisation stakes in the ground over one or two key social issues that have quite literally split the nation in two. But it was arguably always that way.
Conservative America has always been there, afraid of change, of marginalised groups asserting their rights (all men created equal anyone?), upholders of traditional values. And progressive liberal America has always existed too, pushing for civil rights, enfranchisement of women, LGBTQI rights, and socialism-lite (public schools and medicare). It is the advent of the 24 news cycle, with the extra helping of minute by minute social media that has driven the awareness and acknowledgement of this polarisation into all of our lives like a raging bull.
News of the activities of our opposites screams at us all day; their ignorance, their bad choices, their ridiculous beliefs are no longer to be merely speculated upon, assumed or imagined. They are filling our heads and hearts. And so we scream back from the other side in a display of enraged futility.
I am fortunate enough that my echo chamber is well appointed. From within, I rail against ideas, and the misery and oppression of others. People in other echo chambers rail against their own misery, their walls smeared with the shit that comes from being chained to the bottom of the pile; these people aren’t hateful, they are the screwed over. Others are looking to blame someone, and aim their wailing at immigrants, minorities and the system. Some people just scream.
The so-called system (we’re saying ‘so-called’ now aren’t we?) got us here. We have arrived at the inevitable point at which America in its previous form can go no further. Americans legitimately elected Donald Trump to power; as the contented looked away, ignorant of the reality in which its southern/mid-westwern/rust-belt/unemployed neighbours live, the ballots were cast. Those who didn’t think Trump could win played their part in his victory by failing to open their eyes to the truth of their country’s ailments and by failing to deliver a candidate to hear its cries. And now Trump has exposed us. Our fears, our prejudices, our hopes, our dreams. In him we threw our cards to the wind. We bravely put our faith in a man who promised to upend the system that left us poor and prospectless, even when he sat at the table with the elites we so despise. In him we saw a reflection of our inner fears and disappointment with no longer being the top dog, he allowed hidden racism and ignorance to have a voice. In him we saw and celebrated our own narcissism, unwilling to conceive of a better, stronger or morally superior country.
But under him we also rise up and march for what we know is right, and we cry foul: and our legislative and judiciary arms are forced into action through disrespect and disregard for checks and balances. We hold placards against hatred and we open our arms to the huddled masses that still arrive at our shores.
We watched in sorrow as Obama was defeated by the system, fighting two impenetrable fronts of racism and an obstructionist congress. Now we watch as Trump tries to crush the system. But the system is all that remains. The moral code, the values, the rule of law, the influx of immigrants, the work ethic, the dream of the Dream; many times it has masked an undercurrent, an uncomfortable sub text of a history of exploitation, global bullying, slavery and oppression, but it also allowed an invisible bond for Americans to march forward as one. Once this has gone, America fades into anonymity, a country as beleaguered by failure, poverty and misery as those it tried to ‘fix’ throughout its relatively short empire. We, the divided people.