In an election year, we hear candidates tell us they want to make the “American Dream” available to everyone. By this, they usually mean a good education that leads to a job with upward mobility, which includes salary raises, promotions, retirement accounts, and, of course, home ownership.
The American Dream is well known around the world. It is a driving force for immigrants legal and illegal. In America (theoretically, anyway), education and work are available to anyone who really wants it: man and woman, young and old, rich and poor.
But the American Dream has become of late a source of division among people of different classes in our society – seen as a zero-sum game, pitting people against one another. Whether it’s objectively true or not, our society acts like the American Dream is a commodity and there’s not enough to go around. Like the peasants gathered around Marie Antoinette’s palace shouting for bread, we gather around our politicians demanding a piece of the American Dream.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, the American Dream is not a job and a house, although those can be its consequences. The American Dream is not an education, though it can include that. No. The American Dream is a singular idea expressed succinctly: “We hold these truths to be self–evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
This, and the entirety of the Declaration of Independence, is the hermeneutic by which we read the Constitution, and by which we are to understand our history, and therefore our future. It is also how we should understand our present subject matter – the American Dream.