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Friday, June 21, 2013

American Dreamers and Other Middle-Class Sustainers

I have grudgingly become too much of a realist to believe in a "dream life." The fact is I couldn't begin to define it anyway. I like to think I have tasted the proverbial "American Dream," the national ethos of the United States, but as I grow older and consider that the dream includes not only  opportunity for prosperity and success but also upward social mobility achieved through hard work, I question its honest availability in a world consumed with measures of egotistical worth based on scandalous monetary gains and the brute acquisition of power.

In his famous definition of the American Dream, James Truslow Adams in 1931, wrote "life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement" regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.

Even though the country was experiencing the Great Depression when Adams penned these optimistic words, the populace still believed then that their undying initiative and labor would eventually place them in a viable, middle-class "dream" between the extremely rich and the unfortunate poor -- an "American" dream that fit their great expectations of just enough prosperity for happiness.

It is worth noting that the idea of the American Dream is rooted in the United States Declaration of Independence that was written by well-to-do individuals, many of whom believed in and profited from slavery, who proclaimed that "all men are created equal" and that they are "endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights" including "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Maybe, from the start of the American Revolution, the founding fathers intended the nation to be a capitalist reality of "haves" and "have nots." There was definitely a disturbing gap between their lofty words and their daily actions. They were great, determined men with outstanding visions without whom our nation may have never come to greatness, yet today we can see the artful hypocrisy they manipulated and practiced.

I do not believe in the traditional view of the American dream life. I believe in the struggle of the "sustain" life. The so-called "middle class" existence is dead and decaying -- hard work has been processed to places like Mexico, China, and Indonesia. The top dogs of industry and commerce continue to sell out for higher profits. Decent jobs with decent wages and, let's not forget adequate benefits, are practically nonexistent.

People now argue that making good money is dependent upon educations in technology and in scholarly professions dependent upon critical skills and immense intelligence. Unfortunately, not all those "middle-class dreamers" possess the money or the intelligence to school themselves in these fields.

The vast majority of prospective American laborers stand idle. If they go to college, they owe; if they find meager employment after schooling, they owe; if they move out or marry or have children or breathe, they owe. Underemployed and largely untried by the work force, they lack the critical experience to become the cure, to become the means to a new, important American dream.

Instead, at best, modern dreamers join the ranks of the "sustainers." They work part-time employment without as much as decent health benefits. Living hand to mouth with spiraling debt, they rent to own and keep their heads just a little above water. For Christ's sake, many well-meaning Moms and Dads usher new children into lives supported by weak wages and government assistance. The beat goes on while the rich get substantially richer and the poor are pushed ever deeper under the boots of uncaring corporate giants.

I strongly believe middle-class working people need a better future. I know they can restore the country through hard work and their own initiative once they are given a fair opportunity. The question is whether American industry is willing to invest in their own best human resources. Must maximum profit always be the bottom line?

A dream is a human concept rooted in a measure of reality. Most people have lost the ability to envisage the worthwhile future attainments of their hard work while suffering through the bare sustenance offered by their service jobs. They cannot adequately build a dream for tomorrow while working for minimum wages and living paycheck to paycheck. The reality faced by the middle class is that work equates to simply sustaining existence.

Couple this certainty with the belief that happiness is dependent upon stacks of money that purchase endless hours of mindless pleasure and the new world picture comes into better focus: "No good jobs pay no good money to buy no good life." It seems all of middle-class America sings a new anthem: "I Can't Get No Satisfaction."

Yet, even "satisfaction" is a conditional state. No wonder immigrants still find America a land of opportunity. They land on our shores and surprisingly see a better lifestyle than to which they are accustomed. They consider the work to "get there" within their grasp, within their perspective of a fair dream. Every imagined ideal has the power to evoke creativity and to spawn novel ideas. In our decaying economy, their dream of relative prosperity still breathes. Many work hard and many achieve.

At one time American pride meant working to produce utensils for our food, clothing for our bodies, toys for our children, and steel for our automobiles. Now, our labor is not at the roots of our pride. Our lives are centered on buying and consuming cheap goods from far away places. In fact, we pride ourselves on finding bargains and working less to somehow defeat a broken system. We have become "sustainers," not believers in ourselves, and certainly not American dreamers.

So, in the struggle of "sustain life" mode are we able to cope with changes while building new and better lives? It has been done before. James Adams and those others who lived through the Great Depression built new dreams on meager sustenance. I am of the opinion that in order to forge a new direction we must first re-prioritize the needs of an American dreamer.

We who strive to be middle-class Americans must define just what comprises our wholesome needs and our sufficient comforts. This may require us to realize that "smaller" is better rather to live with constant desires and demands of "bigger" is better. The quality of employment surely matters little if the employed squander their paychecks and lives on frivolous material possessions and instant pleasures. Likewise, these materialistic employees will take little pride in their actual work.

Yes, I firmly believe the working middle-class must demand better wages and better jobs while they upgrade their efforts to find great benefit in their active labor. Also, we need American companies based in America hiring workers here to provide a new standard of quality goods and services we need. We must reinstate belief and work out any problems in production in order to "do it here" so that the standard of living for Americans skyrockets. Granted, it will cost and hurt companies "like hell" but building big dreams doesn't come cheap.

Whether you dwelt in the sprawling estate of Monticello with a secret-lover named Sally Hemings or now live in a tenement of dissolute, eroded Detroit, you should understand that shadows are built into the ideology of the dream that equates to living and working a good life in America. The American Dream has always been fraught with imperfection. Give me a break. Consider the vaulted Declaration:

"All men are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Take that sentiment to the employment office or to city hall or to a court of justice and see the truth for yourself. The noble foundations of our American Dream will show cracks and fractures of its structure. Money, position, and power continue to chip away at the justice and continue to reveal a reality short of great and grand ideals.

The American Dream eludes those who call themselves "the middle class." The Dream of Sustaining is here. Not as comforting as the latter, "sustaining" here in America is still much better than life elsewhere. The shame is that we know better and have the resources to work better. We just need dedicated leaders and CEO's and workers to make realities.

Rust Belt Fields

by Slaid Cleaves and Rod Picott

This is my town
Out in the rust belt fields
We were bangin’ out Buicks
And Oldsmobiles
There was always a job
And the money was there
Some say we got a little lazy
Nobody seemed to care

But they figured it out
And shipped the elbow grease
Down to Mexico
And off to the Chinese
And I learned a little something
‘Bout how things are
No one remembers your name
Just for working hard

Drove into the ground
Till your factory’s cold
Then they tear it all down
And the parts get sold
Come the bankers now
Pickin’ over the bones
I got three more neighbors now
‘Bout to lose their homes

‘Cause they figured it out
And shipped the elbow grease
Down to Mexico
And off to the Chinese
And I learned a little something
‘Bout how things are
No one gets a bonus
For bloody knuckles and scars
No one remembers your name
Just for working hard

There’s a casino boat
It’s up around Boon
Think I’ll buy me a bottle
And a motel room
Put all I have left
On a little black square
Risk it all like the big boys
Like I don’t even care

They’ll drive you into the ground
Till your engine’s cold
Call in the auctioneer
As the banks foreclose
And I learned a little something
‘Bout how things are
No one gets a bonus
For bloody knuckles and scars
No one remembers your name
Just for working hard


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