Langston Hughes wrote a short but powerful poem:
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
This applies to our personal dreams, and it also applies to the American dream. With the present focus on cutting government budgets, we see proposals for dangerous cuts that threaten a still weak economic recovery and will make a fragile social safety net less effective. We see cuts that may cost lives in poor countries around the world.
It is clear from the current discourse that the nation is divided on what the American dream is and how we together as a nation can achieve it.To my mind, the American dream is not only a political dream of e pluribus unum -- out of many one. It is more than a dream of inalienable human rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, of freedom and equality. It goes beyond an economic dream of equal opportunity to earn a decent living doing work that one enjoys. The American dream is also a dream of living within a social contract where the strong care about the weak, where the rich see their contributions to government as a patriotic duty, not as an obligation to be evaded by any means necessary. The American dreams is a dream of peace and prosperity, knowing that war and prosperity do not and cannot walk together.
At this moment in American history, the primary problem before the nation is budget deficits. The deficit is a real problem. And let us be clear: Two wars without a tax increase is a major cause of our nation's fiscal problems, along with Wall Street greed where unwise and perhaps illegal deals brought the national and world economies to the brink of collapse. The resulting unemployment has reduced tax revenue and caused the federal government to spend money on economic recovery, including increased unemployment insurance payments.
Yet, we are having this discussion with very little conversation about ending America's various military deployments and raising taxes on the super rich. Meanwhile, our leaders are cutting programs that help the poor, sick, elderly, and weak. This is immoral. Cutting the number of teachers in the classroom so that already stressed schools are stressed even more is just simply short-sighted.
Van Jones, a former environmental advisor to President Obama, now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress has suggested an American Dream Movement. Such a movement would put the American dream at the center of our politics. It would promote a vision of America where the strong protect the weak and we measure success by the quality of relationships and not by the quantity of dollars in the bank.
This nation stands at a defining moment in its history. We can allow ourselves to be frightened into a position where we simply accept a reality that leaves most of the nation's wealth in the hands of the top two percent of the population. We can allow a morality that says that what is good for the wealthiest is best for the nation. Or, we can summon the courage to insist upon an American dream that is in concert with the moral value that says that what is best for the least among us is what is best for the nation.
This is a dream that we ought to keep alive and hold onto with a righteous will.
Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at JustPeaceTheory.com. She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.