What Does ‘The American Dream’ Mean?

  • The American Dream is America’s creed.  For this organization, it means freedom, mobility, and affordable homeownership that results from market conditions rather than governmental mandates.  But The American Dream means different things to different people.  The Washington Post has a recent piece on “Five myths about the American dream“:

    1. The American dream is about getting rich
    2. Homeownership is the American dream
    3. The American dream is American
    4. China threatens the American dream
    5. Economic decline and political gridlock are killing the American dream

    I take issue with only the first three as they relate to the ADC.  First, I don’t know of many people – outside critics of American culture – who say the American Dream is about “getting rich.”  To those who believe in it, The American Dream means pursuing happiness on your terms, not someone else’s.  For some it means starting your own business, for others it means seeing your children go to college.  Or moving out West to “start over again” or something as simple as restoring a ’57 Chevy.  Ultimately, it is driven at the individual and family level.

    In these varied pursuits, some people become fabulously wealthy … and some don’t.  Some strive for riches and come up short while others don’t pursue wealth at all because it doesn’t fit with their definition of happiness.  The Post article essentially affirms this in linking to a study by Xavier University:

    “Thirty-two percent of our respondents pointed to ‘freedom’ as their dream; 29 percent to ‘opportunity’; and 21 percent to the ‘pursuit of happiness.'”

    As for homeownership, registering just 7 percent in the Xavier study, I would say that in indicating “freedom,” “opportunity,” and “pursuit of happiness” as part of their American dream, many people are probably incorporating homeownership into it.  If I had answered the survey, I don’t think I would check-mark the “homeownership” category if “freedom” was also on the list, for the latter would allow me to pursue both homeownership as well as premium barbeque.  One is a distinct goal while the other is a broad ideal.

    Lastly, the third “myth” is, again, not really a myth but a conceit held by our … er, sophisticated betters.  Oh, those flag waving rubess … so sure that only Americans have dreams. The reality is this: We know that people all over the world have dreams of a better tomorrow, but there are few places on earth where they can be pursued and even realized.  That’s why, despite all our troubles, we remain the world’s foremost destination for people seeking freedom, opportunity, and the pursuit of happiness.

    Let us pray we never abandon those principles on which such opportunities rest.

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