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Posts Tagged ‘American Dream

A Commodified Myth?  The American Dream

According to the findings of a Marist Poll commissioned by Boston PBS station WGBH earlier this year, “The American Dream [is] still alive, but … a majority of U.S. residents believe the American middle class is just a vestige of the past.” That WGBH summary of the poll notes:

While 58% [of parents] think their children will be better off than they are now, about one-third, 33%, say their children will be in a worse position.

The picture becomes bleaker when the focus shifts to the future of America’s youth, in general.

Nearly half of residents, 48%, believe most children in the United States will grow up to be worse off than their parents while 43% say children, overall, will be better off….

“The American Dream” is nothing more than an advertising slogan to sustain the oligarchy and elect opportunistic politicians, says Mark Karlin.

We must work to transform “the American Dream” into a deepening of real values — to instill equity, respect and justice into the moral fabric of our nation.|By Mark Karlin

A news release that I received on April 5 from a publicist for WGBH put it more bluntly:

A majority of U.S. residents believe the American middle class is just a vestige of the past, according to an Exclusive Point Taken-Marist Poll, commissioned by WGBH Boston for its new late-night, multi-platform PBS debate series Point Taken.

But, despite a pessimistic view about the viability of the American middle class, most adults nationally 69% think the American Dream is attainable for themselves. Although fewer, many think it is in reach for other Americans, 58%, as well.

Given the nation’s radical and growing income inequality, the perceptions of those surveyed in the poll [as shown in charts]  appear rosier than the reality of the economic chasm in the US.

The poll raises the question about how the hope of achieving an economic dream can defy economic data, given that most of those polled thought the middle class was dying.

Where will the 69 percent of those who believe that “the American Dream” is attainable end up? That’s 69 percent too many people to squeeze into the 1 percent.

This gap may be in large part due to the fact that “the American Dream” is never defined in the poll, as reported by WGBH.

That lack of definition is not unusual: The political, media and cultural concept of an “American Dream” is a loaded, yet amorphous, phrase. It exists as a manipulable perception, and does not carry concrete details that make it tangible.

Politicians love to promise to restore “the American Dream,” but what exactly are they committing themselves to?

For the most part, “the American Dream” has come to be associated with children rising to a higher economic level and standard of living than their parents.

This is a concept reinforced by the media and during every round of elections. “The American Dream” as a cultural cliché is embedded into the assumption of an economy that continues to grow without end.

In short, it’s a fantasy, particularly in an economy that has created a Grand Canyon between the Trumps and Kochs of the world and the rest of us — an economy in which unrestrained consumption consumes the world through global warming.

To promise to restore “the American Dream” is disingenuous. The phrase may be tantalizing to many in economic need; it is aimed at making “economic opportunity” appear inexhaustible.

Yet in reality, it is nothing more than an advertising slogan to sustain the oligarchy and elect opportunistic politicians.

Bernie Sanders has been an exception. He has focused on economic justice and a level playing field, not on a dream.

Politicians who want to actually have an impact on poverty should be — like Sanders, to some extent — promising a restructuring of the current economic system.

It is time to put the financial commodification of “the American Dream” to rest. It is time to transform the connotation of “the American Dream” into the reality of fulfilled lives, embracing diversity, equal justice and involved communities.

The struggle for economic fairness must continue at a robust pace.

Yet simultaneously, we must work to transform “the American Dream” into a deepening of real values — to instill equity, respect and justice into the moral fabric of our nation.

Across the borders with Canada: Rising deaths among white middle-aged Americans

‘The American dream is dead but I’m going to make it stronger!’? Promises of the Presidential candidates

The border

You feel your whiteness properly at the American border. Most of the time being white is an absence of problems. The police don’t bother you so you don’t notice the police not bothering you. You get the job so you don’t notice not getting it. Your children are not confused with criminals. I live in downtown Toronto, in one of the most liberal neighborhoods in one of the most open cities in the world, where multiculturalism is the dominant civic value and the inert virtue of tolerance is the most prominent inheritance of the British empire, so if you squint you can pretend the ancient categories are dissipating into a haze of enlightenment and intermarriage.

Not at the border.

My son’s Guyanese-Canadian teacher and the Muslim Milton scholar I went to high school with and the Sikh writer I squabble about Harold Innis with and my Ishmaeli accountant, we can all be good little Torontonians of the middle class, deflecting the differences we have been trained to respect. But in a car in the carbon monoxide-infused queue waiting to enter Detroit, their beings diverge drastically from mine.

I am white. They are not. They are vulnerable. I am not.

Here’s the thing: I like the guards at the American border. They’re always friendly with me, decent, even enjoyable company. At the booth in between the never-was of Windsor and the has-been of Detroit, the officer I happened to draw had a gruff belly and the mysterious air of intentional inscrutability, like a troll under a bridge in a fairytale.

“Where are you headed?” he asked.

“Burlington, Iowa.”

“Why would anyone ever choose to go to Burlington, Iowa?” he asked philosophically.

“I’m going to see Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.” Then, because it did seem to require an explanation: “They’re giving rallies within a couple of days of each other.”

“Why would anyone ever choose to go see Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders?”

I didn’t argue, because it was the border, but I could have said that the police chief of Birmingham estimated that 30,000 people showed up in Alabama to see Donald Trump in August and that in Dallas, he had filled the American Airlines Center, and that his counterpart, Bernie Sanders, has generated equally unprecedented numbers – vastly more than Barack Obama drew at comparable moments in the 2008 campaign.

“I’m curious,” I said instead.

At this point he asked me to roll down my window. But it was all fine. Like I said, I’m white.

As I drove through the outskirts of the ruins of Detroit, across the I-94, one of the ugliest highways in the United States, the old familiar lightness fluttered to my heart. I love America. America is not my mother. Canada is my mother. But America is an unbelievably gorgeous, surprisingly sweet rich lady who lives next door and appears to be falling apart. I cannot help myself from loving it.

For people who love to dwell in contradictions, the US is the greatest country in the world: the land of the free built on slavery, the country of law and order where everyone is entitled to a gun, a place of unimpeded progress where they cling to backwardness out of sheer stubbornness. And into this glorious morass, a new contradiction has recently announced itself: the white people, the privileged Americans, the ones who had the least to fear from the powers that be, the ones with the surest paths to brighter futures, the ones who are by every metric one of the most fortunate groups in the history of the world, were starting to die off in shocking numbers.

The Case and Deaton report, Rising Morbidity and Mortality in Midlife among White Non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st Century, describes an increased death rate for middle-aged American whites “comparable to lives lost in the US Aids epidemic”. This spike in mortality is unique to white Americans – not to be found among other ethnic groups in the United States or any other white population in the developed world, a mysterious plague of despair.

In one way, it was easy to account for all this white American death – “drug and alcohol poisoning, suicide, and chronic liver diseases and cirrhosis”, according to the report. It was not so easy to account for the accounting. Why were middle-aged white Americans drinking and drugging and shooting themselves to death? The explanations on offer were pre-prepared, fully plugged into confirmation bias: it was the economy or it was demography or it was godlessness or it was religion or it was the breakdown of the family or it was the persistence of antique values or it was the lack of social programs or it was the dependence on social programs.

Case and Deaton call it “an epidemic of pain”. Fine. What does that mean?

On the I-94, you do find yourself asking: what the fuck is wrong with these people? I mean, aside from the rapid decline of the middle class obviously. And the rise of precarious work and the fact that the basic way of life requires so much sedation that nearly a quarter of all Americans are on psychiatric drugs, and somewhere between 26.4 and 36 million Americans abuse opioids every day. Oh yes, and the mass shootings. There was more than one mass shooting a day. And the white terrorists targeting black churches again. And the regularly released videos showing the police assassinating black people. And the police in question never being indicted, let alone being sent to jail.

And you know what Americans were worried about while all this shit was raining down on them? While all this insanity was wounding their beloved country? You know what their number one worry was, according to poll after poll after poll?

Muslims. Muslims, if you can believe it.

‘The American dream is dead but I’m going to make it stronger!’

My body is white and it is male. It is six foot tall and weighs 190lb. It is 39 years old and it has had to start running. It has had to start counting calories. There is a tingle in the joint of my right thigh, so I try not to think about my body. The tingling comes and goes. I know my body is going to kill me.

“A man who fears suffering already suffer what he fears,” as Montaigne said. That’s one of the reasons why men die so much younger than women – six years younger on average in America. Ninety-two percent of men say they wait at least a few days to see if they feel better before they go to a doctor, but I know what they mean by a few days. They mean a few more days than makes sense. It is hard to have a male and white body and to conceive of its weakness. In the same breath, my body cannot bring itself to believe it is the personification of power, though it evidently is in any rational accountancy of social status. It feels like a mere body. It feels mortal.


A tale of 2 Americas? Just only two Americas?

“Where are you from?” said the pale, tattooed man. “Where are you from?”

It’s September 21, 2001, 10 days after the worst attack on America since World War II. Everyone wonders about the next plane. People are looking for scapegoats. The president, the night before, pledges to “bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies.”

0:51 And in the Dallas mini-mart, a Dallas mini-part surrounded by tire shops and strip joints a Bangladeshi immigrant works the register. Back home, Raisuddin Bhuiyan was a big man, an Air Force officer. But he dreamed of a fresh start in America. If he had to work briefly in a mini-mart to save up for I.T. classes and his wedding in two months, so be it.

1:26 Then, on September 21, that tattooed man enters the mart. He holds a shotgun. Raisuddin knows the drill: puts cash on the counter. This time, the man doesn’t touch the money. “Where are you from?” he asks. “Excuse me?” Raisuddin answers. His accent betrays him.

The tattooed man, a self-styled true American vigilante, shoots Raisuddin in revenge for 9/11. Raisuddin feels millions of bees stinging his face. In fact, dozens of scalding, birdshot pellets puncture his head.

2:21 Behind the counter, he lays in blood. He cups a hand over his forehead to keep in the brains on which he’d gambled everything. He recites verses from the Koran, begging his God to live. He senses he is dying.

2:44 He didn’t die. His right eye left him. His fiancée left him. His landlord, the mini-mart owner, kicked him out. Soon he was homeless and 60,000 dollars in medical debt, including a fee for dialing for an ambulance. But Raisuddin lived.

3:11 And years later, he would ask what he could do to repay his God and become worthy of this second chance. He would come to believe, in fact, that this chance called for him to give a second chance to a man we might think deserved no chance at all.

3:34 Twelve years ago, I was a fresh graduate seeking my way in the world. Born in Ohio to Indian immigrants, I settled on the ultimate rebellion against my parents, moving to the country they had worked so damn hard to get out of. What I thought might be a six-month stint in Mumbai stretched to six years. I became a writer and found myself amid a magical story: the awakening of hope across much of the so-called Third World.

Six years ago, I returned to America and realized something: The American Dream was thriving, but only in India. In America, not so much.

4:21 In fact, I observed that America was fracturing into two distinct societies: a republic of dreams and a republic of fears. And then, I stumbled onto this incredible tale of two lives and of these two Americas that brutally collided in that Dallas mini-mart. I knew at once I wanted to learn more, and eventually that I would write a book about them, for their story was the story of America’s fracturing and of how it might be put back together.

4:57 After he was shot, Raisuddin’s life grew no easier. The day after admitting him, the hospital discharged him. His right eye couldn’t see. He couldn’t speak. Metal peppered his face. But he had no insurance, so they bounced him. His family in Bangladesh begged him, “Come home.” But he told them he had a dream to see about.

5:26 He found telemarketing work, then he became an Olive Garden waiter, because where better to get over his fear of white people than the Olive Garden? (Laughter) Now, as a devout Muslim, he refused alcohol, didn’t touch the stuff.

Then he learned that not selling it would slash his pay. So he reasoned, like a budding American pragmatist, “Well, God wouldn’t want me to starve, would he?” And before long, in some months, Raisuddin was that Olive Garden’s highest grossing alcohol pusher. He found a man who taught him database administration. He got part-time I.T. gigs. Eventually, he landed a six-figure job at a blue chip tech company in Dallas.

6:19 But as America began to work for Raisuddin, he avoided the classic error of the fortunate: assuming you’re the rule, not the exception. In fact, he observed that many with the fortune of being born American were nonetheless trapped in lives that made second chances like his impossible. He saw it at the Olive Garden itself, where so many of his colleagues had childhood horror stories of family dysfunction, chaos, addiction, crime.

He’d heard a similar tale about the man who shot him back when he attended his trial. The closer Raisuddin got to the America he had coveted from afar, the more he realized there was another, equally real, America that was stingier with second chances. The man who shot Raisuddin grew up in that stingier America.

7:24 From a distance, Mark Stroman was always the spark of parties, always making girls feel pretty. Always working, no matter what drugs or fights he’d had the night before. But he’d always wrestled with demons. He entered the world through the three gateways that doom so many young American men: bad parents, bad schools, bad prisons.

His mother told him, regretfully, as a boy that she’d been just 50 dollars short of aborting him. Sometimes, that little boy would be at school, he’d suddenly pull a knife on his fellow classmates. Sometimes that same little boy would be at his grandparents’, tenderly feeding horses. He was getting arrested before he shaved, first juvenile, then prison. He became a casual white supremacist and, like so many around him, a drug-addled and absent father. And then, before long, he found himself on death row, for in his 2001 counter-jihad, he had shot not one mini-mart clerk, but three. Only Raisuddin survived.

8:47 Strangely, death row was the first institution that left Stroman better. His old influences quit him. The people entering his life were virtuous and caring: pastors, journalists, European pen-pals. They listened to him, prayed with him, helped him question himself. And sent him on a journey of introspection and betterment.

He finally faced the hatred that had defined his life. He read Viktor Frankl, the Holocaust survivor and regretted his swastika tattoos. He found God. Then one day in 2011, 10 years after his crimes, Stroman received news. One of the men he’d shot, the survivor, was fighting to save his life.

9:46 You see, late in 2009, eight years after that shooting, Raisuddin had gone on his own journey, a pilgrimage to Mecca. Amid its crowds, he felt immense gratitude, but also duty. He recalled promising God, as he lay dying in 2001, that if he lived, he would serve humanity all his days. Then, he’d gotten busy relaying the bricks of a life. Now it was time to pay his debts.

And he decided, upon reflection, that his method of payment would be an intervention in the cycle of vengeance between the Muslim and Western worlds. And how would he intervene? By forgiving Stroman publicly in the name of Islam and its doctrine of mercy. And then suing the state of Texas and its governor Rick Perry to prevent them from executing Stroman, exactly like most people shot in the face do. (Laughter)

10:57 Yet Raisuddin’s mercy was inspired not only by faith. A newly minted American citizen, he had come to believe that Stroman was the product of a hurting America that couldn’t just be lethally injected away. That insight is what moved me to write my book “The True American.” This immigrant begging America to be as merciful to a native son as it had been to an adopted one. In the mini-mart, all those years earlier, not just two men, but two Americas collided.

An America that still dreams, still strives, still imagines that tomorrow can build on today, and an America that has resigned to fate, buckled under stress and chaos, lowered expectations, an ducked into the oldest of refuges: the tribal fellowship of one’s own narrow kind. And it was Raisuddin, despite being a newcomer, despite being attacked, despite being homeless and traumatized, who belonged to that republic of dreams and Stroman who belonged to that other wounded country, despite being born with the privilege of a native white man.

12:19 I realized these men’s stories formed an urgent parable about America. The country I am so proud to call my own wasn’t living through a generalized decline as seen in Spain or Greece, where prospects were dimming for everyone. America is simultaneously the most and the least successful country in the industrialized world.

Launching the world’s best companies, even as record numbers of children go hungry. Seeing life-expectancy drop for large groups, even as it polishes the world’s best hospitals. America today is a sprightly young body, hit by one of those strokes that sucks the life from one side, while leaving the other worryingly perfect.

13:16 On July 20, 2011, right after a sobbing Raisuddin testified in defense of Stroman’s life, Stroman was killed by lethal injection by the state he so loved. Hours earlier, when Raisuddin still thought he could still save Stroman, the two men got to speak for the second time ever. Here is an excerpt from their phone call. Raisuddin: “Mark, you should know that I am praying for God, the most compassionate and gracious. I forgive you and I do not hate you. I never hated you.” Stroman: “You are a remarkable person. Thank you from my heart. I love you, bro.”

14:06 Even more amazingly, after the execution, Raisuddin reached out to Stroman’s eldest daughter, Amber, an ex-convinct and an addict. and offered his help. “You may have lost a father,” he told her, “but you’ve gained an uncle.” He wanted her, too, to have a second chance.

14:31 If human history were a parade, America’s float would be a neon shrine to second chances. But America, generous with second chances to the children of other lands, today grows miserly with first chances to the children of its own. America still dazzles at allowing anybody to become an American. But it is losing its luster at allowing every American to become a somebody.

15:06 Over the last decade, seven million foreigners gained American citizenship. Remarkable. In the meanwhile, how many Americans gained a place in the middle class? Actually, the net influx was negative. Go back further, and it’s even more striking: Since the 60s, the middle class has shrunk by 20 percent, mainly because of the people tumbling out of it.

And my reporting around the country tells me the problem is grimmer than simple inequality. What I observe is a pair of secessions from the unifying center of American life. An affluent secession of up, up and away, into elite enclaves of the educated and into a global matrix of work, money and connections, and an impoverished secession of down and out into disconnected, dead-end lives that the fortunate scarcely see.

16:06 And don’t console yourself that you are the 99 percent. If you live near a Whole Foods, if no one in your family serves in the military, if you’re paid by the year, not the hour, if most people you know finished college, if no one you know uses meth, if you married once and remain married, if you’re not one of 65 million Americans with a criminal record — if any or all of these things describe you, then accept the possibility that actually, you may not know what’s going on and you may be part of the problem.

16:53 Other generations had to build a fresh society after slavery, pull through a depression, defeat fascism, freedom-ride in Mississippi. The moral challenge of my generation, I believe, is to reacquaint these two Americas, to choose union over secession once again.

This ins’t a problem we can tax or tax-cut away. It won’t be solved by tweeting harder, building slicker apps, or starting one more artisanal coffee roasting service. It is a moral challenge that begs each of us in the flourishing America to take on the wilting America as our own, as Raisuddin tried to do.

17:43 Like him, we can make pilgrimages. And there, in Baltimore and Oregon and Appalachia, find new purpose, as he did. We can immerse ourselves in that other country, bear witness to its hopes and sorrows, and, like Raisuddin, ask what we can do. What can you do? What can you do? What can we do? How might we build a more merciful country?

18:17 We, the greatest inventors in the world, can invent solutions to the problems of that America, not only our own. We, the writers and the journalists, can cover that America’s stories, instead of shutting down bureaus in its midst. We can finance that America’s ideas, instead of ideas from New York and San Francisco. We can put our stethoscopes to its backs, teach there, go to court there, make there, live there, pray there.

18:49 This, I believe, is the calling of a generation. An America whose two halves learn again to stride, to plow, to forge, to dare together. A republic of chances, rewoven, renewed, begins with us.

Patsy Z and TEDxSKE shared a link.
Ten days after 9/11, a shocking attack at a Texas mini-mart shattered the lives of two men: the victim and the attacker. In this stunning talk, Anand Giridharadas,…|By Anand Giridharadas


What Meritocracy looks like in the US and elsewhere?

Poor kids who do everything right don’t do better than rich kids who do everything wrong

America is the land of opportunity, just for some more than others.

That’s because, in large part, inequality starts in the crib. (And the socio-political system)

Rich parents can afford to spend more time and money on their kids, and that gap has only grown the past few decades.

Indeed, economists Greg Duncan and Richard Murnane calculate that, between 1972 and 2006, high-income parents increased their spending on “enrichment activities” for their children by 151% in inflation-adjusted terms, compared to 57 percent for low-income parents.

October 18

But, of course, it’s not just a matter of dollars and cents. It’s also a matter of letters and words.

Affluent parents talk to their kids three more hours a week on average than poor parents, which is critical during a child’s formative early years. That’s why, as Stanford professor Sean Reardon explains, “rich students are increasingly entering kindergarten much better prepared to succeed in school than middle-class students,” and they’re staying that way.

It’s an educational arms race that’s leaving many kids far, far behind.

It’s depressing, but not nearly so much as this:

Even poor kids who do everything right don’t do much better than rich kids who do everything wrong.

Advantages and disadvantages, in other words, tend to perpetuate themselves. You can see that in the above chart, based on a new paper from Richard Reeves and Isabel Sawhill, presented at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s annual conference, which is underway.

Specifically, rich high school dropouts remain in the top about as much as poor college grads stay stuck in the bottom — 14 versus 16 percent, respectively. Not only that, but these low-income strivers are just as likely to end up in the bottom as these wealthy ne’er-do-wells. Some meritocracy

What’s going on? Well, it’s all about glass floors and glass ceilings.

Rich kids who can go work for the family business — and, in Canada at least, 70 % of the sons of the top 1 percent do just that — or inherit the family estate don’t need a high school diploma to get ahead.

It’s an extreme example of what economists call “opportunity hoarding.” That includes everything from legacy college admissions to unpaid internships that let affluent parents rig the game a little more in their children’s favor.

But even if they didn’t, low-income kids would still have a hard time getting ahead.

That’s, in part, because they’re targets for diploma mills that load them up with debt, but not a lot of prospects.

And even if they do get a good degree, at least when it comes to black families, they’re more likely to still live in impoverished neighborhoods that keep them disconnected from opportunities.

It’s not quite a heads-I-win, tails-you-lose game where rich kids get better educations, yet still get ahead even if they don’t—but it’s close enough. And if it keeps up, the American Dream will be just that.

Note: Kids of struggling and hard working parents learn to save money and appreciate the value of hard work. Kids of very rich families fail to learn the value of money and work hard when young.

Unless the rich kid  go to work for his parents’ business and given countless second chances, he is unable to make it on his own.

It is not the rich parents fault as much as their inability to convince the kid, who see wealth of his family surrounding him, in the house and things coming his way the easy way, that the notion of hard work is not believable.




March 2023

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