I wrote 16 months ago that America was broken. The intervening months, including a presidential campaign already long on mud slinging and short on substance, should silence anyone who thought I was being overwrought.
The death of the American Dream has been ongoing for decades as the gap between the rich and poor has grown, but it was during the dark days of the Bush-Cheney interregnum that it shifted into high gear. And has kept accelerating primarily because of a Republican Party that is concerned only about its own selfish interests, notably pampering the rich and screwing the poor. I hasten to add that the GOP has had considerable help from a Democratic Party that has too often capitulated to its increasingly reactionary views even with Barack Obama in the White House and control of the Senate.
Here is the death of the American Dream writ large:
* It continues to abandon its youth, its elderly and its poor. It is imprisoning millions of its citizens for the most trivial of offenses, including many hundreds of thousands whose only crime was to get caught with a marijuana cigarette.
* It is suffocating its middle class, turning its back on newcomers, trying to disenfranchise minority voters in states with Republican-controlled legislatures, further cementing the GOP as the White Peoples Party, and giving obscene tax breaks to corporations and fat-cat financiers such as its presumptive nominee, empty suit Mitt Romney.
* It has turned the truth into a malleable concept beaten into shapes that bear no semblance to reality, the most pungent contemporary examples being repeated Republican misrepresentations about what the Affordable Care Act is about and the embrace of Obama birtherism by many adherents.
* It is ignorant of its own history, core values and virtues, and many of us, if shown a copy of the Bill of Rights, would believe it to be a subversive document.
* It has an insatiable addiction to foreign oil, values clean air and water only when they don't get in the way of profit making, and cares little that its infrastructure is crumbling one bridge and dam at a time.
* Thinking big has been replaced by thinking small, discourse by dumbing down and bickering, and bipartisanship by ideological extremism that in its ugliest manifestation has been the GOP's treasonous blood thirst to oust Obama instead of working with him to jump start a moribund economy.
* It is in thrall to the nation's most dangerous terrorist organization, the National Rifle Association, which has bullied politicians into making legal the sales of the killing machines in the most recent of a never ending series of slaughters that would be unthinkable in other nations -- the massacre of 12 people and wounding of 58 others in a Colorado movie theater -- with more bloodbaths to come.
* It has turned against people whose skin color is different and who worship non-Christian deities.
* It cares little that our world standing has been undercut by reckless foreign adventures, torture and use of the 9/11 attacks not to reaffirm core values but to undermine them.
* It has a Congress that is borderline dysfunctional, a president who promised hope and change but with the exception of the Affordable Care Act has pretty much delivered more of the same if with less fear mongering, and a deeply politicized Supreme Court that is a helpmate to powerful and wealthy right-wing interests.
The American Dream is one of if not the greatest gift of our democracy because it draws so deeply from the core values on which the republic was founded. But it has become a cliched concept, endlessly reworked by Hollywood and Madison Avenue, and all the more so because because while America unravels so many other peoples elsewhere, notably the Arab World, have embraced the dream in striving to be free.
It is convenient to reinvent an imaginary past when every home had a white picket fence in the front, a vegetable garden in the back and a shiny made-in-Detroit sedan at the curb. There once was an American Dream and it survived two world wars, a nearly decade-long depression between those wars, and the threat of nuclear annihilation.
Sadly -- and for me most bitterly as someone who has bled red, white and blue for his country -- the American Dream is not merely on sabbatical. It is dead. And while it is easy to blame feckless politicians and greed mongers for its demise, we all share responsibility as we take ever less responsibility for our country, ever less care in electing our so-called leaders, as well as ever less care for those things that should most matter for ourselves and future generations.
Photograph by Roger Blake