Why the American dream is just a mirage
There is an impulse to dismiss political rhetoric as just so much blather, harmless blather.
But there is much more to it, for very often such rhetoric taps into and works to legitimise certain shared ideas, helping them to achieve the status of unassailable and obvious “truths” that generate power to persuade a populace of the “common sense” of ideas, that persuade people of the necessity to support policies that, manifestly, are against their interests. For instance, of the “necessity” for huge disparities of power, income and wealth.
That “common sense” allows elites to maintain their power not through force or coercion but through the active and willing consent of the majority of people.
There was much of this in the children’s referendum debate, such as children being heard as well as seen, and the stuff about every child matters, masking the reality in our society that every child does not matter and the voices of many children will never be heard, now and when they grow out of childhood.
A striking example of such rhetoric was the victory speech of Barack Obama in Chicago on Tuesday night last week and in one crucial regard particularly.
He spoke of the American spirit, “the spirit that has triumphed over war and depression, the spirit that has lifted this country from the depths of despair to the great heights of hope, the belief that while each of us will pursue our own individual dreams, we are an American family and we rise or fall together as one nation and as one people”.
The top 1 per cent of income “earners” get 24 per cent of all income. In 1915, the year of the Rockefellers and Carnegies, the top 1 per cent got just 18 per cent. One nation, one people?
Obama spoke aspirationally about solidarity and Americans looking out for each other but then came the following towards the end of the speech: “I believe we can keep the promise of our founders, the idea that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.”
This is what is called “the American dream” and it is probably the strongest line Americans buy into, almost the ethos of the United States, the justificatory philosophy for US capitalism. It is what gives Americans the idea that the US is “the greatest nation on earth”.