Many have tried to describe the American Dream, our national ethos (a Greek word meaning “character," used to describe the guiding beliefs or ideals that characterize a community, nation, or ideology). This American Dream is rooted in the Declaration of Independence (“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men [humanity] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”) Historian James Truslow Adams popularized the phrase "American Dream" in his 1931 book, Epic of America. He gave credence to the idea of an America in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man [human being], with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement.
Puritan John Winthrop wrote about “American Exceptionalism,” an ideology that is often attached to The American Dream these days. He said that Americans are the chosen ones, and that they are a light to the nations. In 2006 Barack Obama wrote a memoir, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream. Martin Luther King, Jr. also defined the American Dream from a black perspective in 1961. Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, Willa Cather, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Theodore Dreiser, Langston Hughes, John Steinbeck and a host of other American writers have also defined, in their own way, the American Dream.
On this Memorial Day weekend I’ve been pondering over the American Dream (as expressed in the Declaration of Independence) and realizing how schizophrenic we have been through the years and continue to be in our present sociopolitical environment. Our Founding Fathers declared “all men” (at that time women, slaves, and others were excluded from that noble phrase) “are created equal.” Those Founding Fathers, too, were schizophrenic, for they practiced the very antithesis of the principles they proclaimed. “All men,” they wrote (and now we say all humanity) “are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It is important to note that the words do not say only American “men,” but “all men (and now we can say all humanity, wherever they may live). Unless of course, we want to continue to be schizophrenic and practice discrimination against our fellow human beings, both here in America and around the world. American men and women of all colors, religions, and cultures have given their very lives to protect, promote and proclaim the American Dream. We must honor their sacrifice by doing our best to keep the American Dream from being distorted, misused, and violated. It is a Dream, but it is a Dream that can come true.