This American Dream I am Disbelieving

So I had big plans for the blog this week. None of them happened, so we’re going to have to push things back a week. Instead I offer an attempt at sharing some thoughts I’ve been trying to figure out how to put into words for quite some time.

Didn’t you know that this world
Is not meant to be dreamt in
But what hurts me most
Is all the time that we’ve wasted
I’ve wasted all the dreams in my head
I’ll have to move out of this country instead
–Idlewild, “You and I are Both Away”

It seems to me that it’s easier to make something of yourself if you start with nothing than it is to make something of yourself if you start with something. Like, I’m not talking rich when I say “something,” I’m talking your basic American middle class existence. If you grow up middle class your life is planned out for you pretty much from the start. You go to school for 13 years. The final two years are spent applying for college. You then go to college and emerge with a slightly pickled liver, a degree that may or may not be useful, and crushing loads of debt. Then you’re supposed to get a job as an accountant, get married, buy a house, have 2.4 children and a dog, and eventually you die.

The reason I say it’s easier to make something of yourself if you start with nothing isn’t a Republican-Presidential-Candidate-esque rant about how the poor have it too easy in America. It’s a psychological statement. If you have nothing you don’t have anything to lose. If your dreams are big enough, your skills are honed enough, and luck is on your side you can go anywhere from nothing because no one is expecting anything of you.

If you start with something most of the messages you get as you’re growing up are about how to not lose what you have. You can’t be in a band because guys in bands don’t make any money. You can’t be an artist because artists don’t make any money. You have to be an accountant[1] or an engineer or a middle manager or something.

Last summer in a fit of pique I wrote three posts about how corporate America is destroying America. I still believe every word I wrote.

The message we get growing up in the vast and shrinking middle classes of America is, “Make the safe choice.” We kill ourselves every day with the safe choice. Our dreams become secondary things that we might get to turn into hobbies when we’re 50 if everything goes according to plan.

What if the plan is terrible? Does that matter?


I also think that this directly impacts the politics of America. I’m not really talking about Trump rallies or Bernie and Hillary here. I have many things to say on the subject of Trump rallies, though. Hopefully there will be a long-ass post about that next week.

What I’m talking about is something more primal. We’re increasingly divided and increasingly hateful of each other. There’s the obvious shit, like the way that you can apparently get one third of the country to support you if you spout off any racist shit that you can think of.

I think it’s because most of us are mad. Most of us are scared. That convenient path to a long, healthy life is increasingly closing off. Wages are stagnant while college costs and housing costs are climbing ever higher. But this is the American Dream. This is what we’re supposed to do. What do we do when it’s not working anymore?

This is where Donald Trump gets scary. He might be a buffoon or a con man or pulling the greatest piece of performance art since Andy Kaufman disappeared, but he’s tapped into something primal and dangerous in America. It’s something that’s always existed at the fringes of the American psyche and sometimes gone mainstream, but it’s always something that goes away and we pretend can’t happen anymore. America has always had a nativist streak, always had an isolationist streak, always had a hateful streak. The waves crested with the Know Nothings and the Ku Klux Clan but they’ve always been around and will probably always be around.

So when the bully stands up and says “Make America Great Again,” people know what that means. They look around at the ruins of their own lives and look at the American Dream and they know that something has stopped them from achieving the American Dream. It can’t possibly be that they failed. It can’t possibly be that America as a whole failed. It has to be because someone, somewhere, is trying to actively destroy America.

It can’t be my fault it’s all falling apart. It has to be yours.


I am increasingly convinced that politicians cannot fix this. Obama couldn’t do it. Bernie Sanders won’t be able do it even if he does get past Hillary. The President is just one person at the head of a vast, sluggish political machine. Each of the cogs of that machine are more interested in keeping their jobs than doing their jobs and the crazy thing about politicians is that doing your job is not a pre-requisite for keeping it. That machine is propped up on an 18th Century document not designed to cope with the sheer size and complexity of modern America.

Politicians let Flint, Michigan drink lead water for over a year. Politicians stand up and tell us how awful all the gun violence is and never actually lift a finger to fix it. Politicians don’t fix it because it doesn’t actually matter to them anymore. They’re going to get their votes, anyway.

Americans don’t follow politics anymore. This might seem like a weird statement to make since we’ve had wall-to-wall coverage of the 2016 race for over a year now and people discuss politics in America in the same way the residents of Constantinople once discussed the finer points of Arianism. But what we’re doing isn’t about the actual politics anymore. We follow politics like we follow team sports. It’s no longer an exercise in deciding who can best steer the ship of state but an exercise in handicapping and picking the right team and winning.

The Democrats don’t have to talk to the Republicans anymore, since a huge number of Republicans wouldn’t vote for Hillary or Bernie if Mecha-Hitler won the primaries and chose a methed-out velociraptor as his running mate. The Republicans don’t have to talk to the Democrats anymore since Trump is a guy with bad hair pretending to be Mecha-Hitler and Ted Cruz is a methed-out velociraptor who may or may not be the Zodiac Killer.

So in the absence of anything better to do the Democrats are currently eviscerating each other as Bernie continues to insist on not going away. It’s positively vitriolic between the Bernie and Hillary camps right now. If you don’t support Hillary you’re a sexist douchebag. If you do support Hillary you’re just begging for four more years of a President toadying up to Wall Street. If you support Bernie you’re an idiot who doesn’t know how reality works. If you don’t support Bernie you’re a fucking moron who wants Wall Street to keep running our lives.

The Republicans, meanwhile, are, um…actually, I’m not sure how the followers of the various camps are doing over on that side. It’s all just unintelligible screeching and men in suits that cost more than a house in Flint, Michigan smearing shit all over each other.

Meanwhile real Americans drink water filled with lead. Real Americans can’t find work. Real Americans lose their houses. The shitheads that are supposed to help them and represent them point at the other shitheads wearing the opposite team’s colors and say, “It’s their fault.”

And those real Americans believe the shitheads. Because it doesn’t matter whether the shithead is wearing a blue or a red jersey. It’s all about the team.


I’ve come to realize that the politicians cannot save us. The politicians don’t want to save us. The politicians just want to keep their jobs and if we’ve learned anything in the last few years it’s that the only way to keep your job as a politician is to avoid doing your job.

You know who’s going to save us? The artists, the thinkers, the philosophers. It’s going to take people rejecting the simple path and taking the difficult one. We do need a revolution, but it needs to be a revolution in how we treat each other and think about the people we put in charge.

That’s a scary thought. But the alternative is even scarier. The American Dream is a lie and every 4 years we make that lie a little bit bigger.


[1]I am currently taking a corporate accounting course. Oh. My. God. Accounting is the fucking worst. So I’m a bit down on accounting right now.

One thought on “This American Dream I am Disbelieving

  1. I did an accounting course as part of my economics degree. The teacher was much more interested in accounting trickery (“how to spot it”, of course) than in the basics.

    Politics has become tribal. Twenty years ago it was about catching the floating voters, the people who hadn’t decided which party to support this time. Now it’s assumed that nobody feels that way any more, and it’s all about getting out the base, the people who might not bother to vote but whose feelings aren’t in any doubt.

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