Michel's New Book
Who Stole the American Dream?
By Michel J. Faulkner
Donate $50 to the campaign and you’ll receive a free copy of Restoring The American Dream.
“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” – The Declaration of Independence
The United States has been built and sustained largely by the pursuit of the “American Dream” (“life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”) by immigrants and then their descendents. The very founding of the United States was based on rebellion against oppression and suppression of individual rights by the British government. In fact, subsequently, the two governing documents of our country, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, were crafted to insure and protect those very rights.
However, the present climate of greed and corruption amongst more than a few of our political leaders, now more quickly and thoroughly exposed through instant reporting, is undermining the structural fabric essential for the survival of the American Dream – for this and perhaps also for future generations.
This book speaks from the perspective of a common American Citizen and not a professional politician or commentator. The book makes a moral appeal, to all who love America and believe that the American Dream can still become a reality, to step up and rally against this frightening prospect. John Adams (the United States’: first vice president, second president and one of country’s the most influential founding fathers and political philosophers, said “I must study politics and war that my sons have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.” What I believe he meant was that every generation of Americans have to fight for democracy. Democracy is not easy and it’s not free. It requires work. Because it was set up with a balance of power between its three branches, and because it is a government “of the people, by the people and for the people”, it requires continued refinement and continued effort to move it to the next level – but always in adherence to its founding principles. It requires each generation to do its part. And while every generation has had its struggles, it seems that, currently, while we all see the unraveling of the fabric our society and the pervasive corruption that is choking our Nation, this generation seems less inclined that prior ones to step forward and attempt to do something about it.
The term the “American Dream” is well-known term to citizens and non-citizens. Wikopedia defines the American Dream as: “a national ethos of the United States of America in which democratic ideals are perceived as a promise of prosperity for its people.”
This term was first coined in 1931 by J.T. Adams (1878-1949), U.S. writer and historian, in “Epic of America.” – [The American Dream is] “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”
This idea has exhibited itself throughout our history. From the first immigrant to those still coming to the America today, people come to the United States looking for: a better life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Homesteaders left the big cities of the east to find happiness and their piece of land in the unknown wilderness pursuing these inalienable rights. Post civil war freed slaves sought to make their own way and build a better future. Veterans of World War II sought to settle down and have a home, a car and a family. The suffragette of the early 1900’s sought equal rights for woman. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X sought equality for blacks. Post-war Vietnamese came to the United States and applied their skills to make a better life.
Thomas Wolfe said, “…to every man, regardless of his birth, his shining, golden opportunity …the right to live, to work, to be himself, and to become whatever thing his manhood and his vision can combine to make him.”
Unfortunately, our form of democracy, as embodied in the ideal that we can exist as a sovereign and independent nation of hard-working, peace-loving people can no longer be pursued if Americans don’t believe in it anymore. As Americans, we expect business leaders to be aggressive and our politicians to be passionate. And, we don’t expect or demand moral perfection from either. However, when we see such wide spread greed and corruption go unchecked, it undermines the very fabric of our nation. It undermines our confidence and faith in the dream that is bred in the hearts of Americans. When we become apathetic about democracy, democracy does not work – in the United States or abroad.
We are not the first generation to struggle with the preservation of the American Dream. Since our nation’s inception, our leaders have been torn due to the inevitable conflict between the fruits of power and their conscience. The most prevalent of these conflicts related to the slavery question. Until the Civil War, our nation and its leaders struggled with the implications of years of compromise and personal struggles. Leaders often found themselves trying to reconcile themselves to policies with respect to slavery that were contrary to the American Dream. For many, there was an economic benefit to slavery. However, even before the Civil War, leaders struggled with the fact that they could not be a moral beacon with skeletons in their respective closets with respect to slavery. They constantly wrestled with questions such as: “does the end justify the means” and “are all men truly created equal.” Even two of our most well known forefathers, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, wrestled with the slavery question.
Greed and corruption isn’t a new phenomenon either. The Bible is full of stories about them; and the recorded history of our world has story after story of leaders consumed and often toppled because of their consuming greed and/or corruption. We have struggled with greed and corruption in the United States since its inception; however, many believe that rarely before have they been so widespread, so accepted and deeply entrenched in the culture of our nation – especially in our elected lawmakers. There are so many examples, just amongst political leaders, business leaders, and clergy, that we could devote an entire book just to summarizing and analyzing them. However, even though it seems as if “everyone’s doing it”, it doesn’t make justify this behavior. Nor does it mean that we should accept such behavior in our chosen leaders. John Adams wrote: “Because power corrupts, society’s demands for moral authority and character increase as the importance of the position increases”. And later 20th century business tycoon and part time politician Ross Perot once said (about a well-known US political figure): “If your wife can’t trust you, how can your country?”
I am not claiming that today’s leaders are worse than those of the past, or that the problem is more pervasive. However, in this age of instant information, more people hear the bad new and reports of corruption, often seemingly in “real time.” The age of instant information has led to an assumption by many that “everybody is doing it.” This assumption, misplaced or not, is creating a growing disconnect between Americans and the common moral presuppositions that have been and will continue to be essential for our democracy to function. Without the general belief that the laws and principals of the United States provide that anyone in the United States can get ahead by working hard, America cannot function as intended. Without this “rule of law,” our very constitutional principles are in jeopardy. (The rule of law does not have a precise definition, and its meaning can vary between different nations and legal traditions. In the most basic sense, though, the rule of law generally is understood to be: a system that attempts to protect the rights of citizens from arbitrary and abusive use of government power.)
Some are surrendering to the belief the all our leaders are in the political arena for themselves and that being involved is a lost cause. Others, however, are stepping up, just as American colonists did in the mid 1700’s in the face of British tyranny. For example, we are seeing the winds of change in the growing “tea party movement,” which, beginning in 2009, started organizing a series of nationally-coordinated protests throughout the United States. Their web sites define them as “A community committed to standing together, shoulder to shoulder, to protect our country and the Constitution upon which we were founded!” Their self-professed mission is: “…to attract, educate, organize, and mobilize our fellow citizens to secure public policy consistent with our three core values of Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government and Free Markets.”
One of the most painful realities to deal with is the fact that faith in the American Dream and all of its idealistic implications are being shattered in the eyes of young Americans who must carry it forth. Their faith in the dream has been shattered by the obvious greed and corruption that is so poignant in every facet of our society they think is part of the norm. If we as Americans are going to save America, we must save it from the clutches of greed and apathy. The growing list of public figures caught up in greed and/or sexual scandals seems to exist on every level.
American democracy will work if there is a true and sincere faith in the honesty and integrity of the people and institutions that govern fairness and equity in our nation. To combat this downward spiral, we need a revolution, a revolution not only of change but a revolution of honesty; a revolution of integrity in which we begin to hold every citizen accountable for his/her integrity beginning at the highest levels of government and filtering down to every transaction and interaction that we make as citizens. When the average citizen sees our leadership “getting theirs,” what message does that send to the rest of us? Not only do we need a resurgence of integrity; but, we need to do it in the name of national security and longevity.
We cannot survive as a nation of thieves. People who don’t believe in the American Dream don’t trust democracy. People who don’t trust democracy don’t vote. People who don’t vote don’t count. We have to restore faith in the basic American ideals of justice, honesty, civility and integrity, and to restore faith in the American Dream. We have to do it for ourselves and our children and their children.
It’s time for wake up call for our generation to understand that the American Dream is in danger of being lost to this generation – and perhaps also to future generations. This book also explains why my personal response has been and will continue to be my service to the community – for the past 20+ years as a minister and lay leader in Harlem and, hopefully, going forward as Upper Manhattan’s voice in the House of Representatives.