National Dream as People’s Ideology
Americans, both native-born and immigrant, share our many dreams. The national dreams are sets of beliefs that unify and inspire the country. Their “of, by, and for the people” messages build national self-confidence and can be regarded as proper people’s ideologies. No political party/entity can claim to fully represent these national dreams.
This holiday season is a good time to appreciate how our national dream fares among others and, possibly, make some appropriate New Year resolutions.
The American Dream – Through the Native and Immigrant Eyes
A case in point is the American Dream elaborated over the years by thinkers of all stripes. Although media sometimes strips the American Dream to the bare bones, its well-known interpretation by James T. Adams embraces not only achieving wealth by hard work but also developing one’s full potential in a country free from barriers erected by older civilizations. In 1998, Ted Ownby spelled out its four aspects, as dreams of:
This is exactly what I hear when interviewing immigrant women for my upcoming book, The Immigration Code: How Women-Leaders Break It in America: the immigrants, like native-born Americans, seek to realize their full potential in a country that fully delivers on freedom. The essence of the American Dream—and its perception worldwide—becomes crystal-clear when seen through the eyes of these outstanding women leaders:
- Athena Tacha, a renowned sculptor, from Greece
Young Athena dreamed of breaking new ground in modern art. But in Europe, she would have had to follow in the footsteps of classic artists, like Brancusi. Living in America let her become a brilliantly innovative pioneer of site-specific environmental sculpture; over thirty museums, including New York’s Museum of Modern Art, have collected her work. Her stunning “Sculpting With/In Nature” exhibition is now on display at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, NJ.
“For some people, the American Dream may mean becoming rich or famous, but that was never of importance to me. Money does not bring happiness,” said Athena. “My concept of the American dream is for every individual to be able to make a decent living and fulfill their potential in their chosen field. Freedom of speech and freedom to be yourself were most important elements for me. I am satisfied that I achieved this.” The American Dream certainly worked for Athena!
- Cindy Gallop, an advertising executive, from UK and Brunei
With her razor-sharp mind, Cindy figured out incredible post-recession business opportunities in New York, and founded the companies IfWeRanTheWorld and MakeLoveNotPorn– taking on an idea of changing the world, and putting her own spin on the American Dream along the way.
Cindy separates the old American Dream (“individually focused idea that you, on your own, could strive and achieve”) from the new one, which is about “achievement through togetherness, collaboration.” Why? “Now that the Internet enables … us to connect, in a way we never could before, the new American Dream is about the fact that you’re not alone—there are others like you who share the same values, want the same things, and will band together with you … to make it happen. I believe the business model of the future is: Shared Values + Shared Action = Shared Profit (financial and social). That, to me, is the new American Dream.” Way to go, Cindy!
The European Dream
The world learned about the European Dream from a 2004 book by the American social thinker, Jeremy Rifkin, who articulated the basis of EU ideology, presenting EU realities as the Next Best Thing in a post-American-dominated world. “The European Dream” offers a systematic comparison of US-American vs. European values, lifestyles, economy, wealth accumulation/distribution, social mobility, dealing with diversity, healthcare, welfare, and what not—to prove that the European vision is “quietly eclipsing the American Dream.” One big problem here is that it’s not the American Dream—as we know it—that’s being “eclipsed,” but the total of American socio-economic establishment: the popular term, “American Dream” is overstretched like an old elastic band, to cover almost everything.
Rifkin is a knowledgeable man. But in this case, I think his downgrading-America analysis is misguided. Consider:
- A Dream is a set of personal beliefs/aspirations requiring optimism and hope, abundant in America, while there’s still a pessimistic edge ingrained in the average European. But Rifkin says American optimism is unsustainable.
- The American Dream has stood the test of time as part of the US-American psyche, while simple folks in Europe never heard of any European Dream. But Rifkin says the future is with EU vision.
- As Tony Blair remarked, countries are best judged by how many people want to move there. According to Gallop-2013, the US “remains the most popular destinationin the world for potential migrants”. But Rifkin says the grass is greener in the Old World yards.
In today’s post-recession world, however, the European grass doesn’t appear as green as it used to.
The Chinese Dream
In 2013, China’s General Secretary, Xi Jinping, began promoting the Chinese Dream of “national rejuvenation, improvement of people’s livelihoods, prosperity, construction of a better society, and military strengthening.” It looks modeled after the American Dream—with added win-win cooperation, Chinese-culture-style. Although the precise meaning of the Chinese Dream is vague, one thing is clear: official propaganda has gone into overdrive trying to rally the public around it, and have it ingrained in the national psyche. Thus, it is featured in newspaper editorials, TV debates, university courses, even school textbooks.
The attempt to unite the increasingly diverse nation and push for new reforms through the Chinese Dream may have a troubling whiff of “repackaged authoritarianism”—but it’s too early to know.
Compared with the European and Chinese dreams, the American Dream is as alive, evolving, and shining. However, we must honor all four components: reducing it to only economic prosperity and thus presenting US-Americans as primitive fame-and-fortune hunters is unfair. Let’s make it a New Year resolution to be fair to ourselves!