The Death of the American Dream
All of a sudden, the whole world cares about US affairs. Today, everyone fears for the “American Dream,” and US internal affairs concern us all, as though we were presumptive citizens in this empire that is fighting for its last few breaths. The world responds to every decision taken by the new administration, from one corner of the globe to the other, as though it were a local development.
Over the past decades, the Global South’s relationship with the US was governed by a sort of bipolarity. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the US assumed the role of world police.
It set up its bases in every continent. It sent its soldiers on countless wars. It interfered in most countries’ internal affairs. It contributed to toppling regimes and erecting others. It was this that caused the US to be despised among the citizens of the Global South. Meanwhile, the question “Why do they hate us?” became the center of political, academic, and ideological discussions in the US after the September 11 attacks by a group of Al-Qaeda militants.
Over the past few years, however, this role was significantly minimized. After its post-1990 frenzy of success, the US that became involved in myriad struggles in the period between 1990 and 2003 is not the same US that existed in 2016. Having previously sent hundreds of thousands of its troops to battle in the caves of Tora Bora and the streets of Baghdad, over the past few years, it has customarily sent no more than 1,000 soldiers into any battle, dividing them between Iraq and Syria to fight the Islamic State organization. In Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, land invasions have been replaced by airstrikes and drones, and in turn, the superpower’s role in the struggles of the Global South has become secondary.
Yet, Russia’s flagrant intervention in the Middle East has made it a key player in the conflict—the most decisive indicator of the US abandonment of its role as world police and its newfound policy of semi-isolationism.
On the other hand, citizens of the Global South began to view the US as the land of dreams, where they can fulfil the ambitions that are impossible in their home countries due to the waves of crisis and conflict. And so the “American Dream” became the universal dream.
In 2015, during his speech announcing his candidacy for the presidency, Donald Trump pronounced the American Dream to be dead.
The term “American Dream” was first coined in 1931 by American historian James Truslow Adams in the his book The Epic of America. Ironically, this dream was born out of the Great Depression, which struck the whole world and led to widespread financial collapse, lasting until the early 1940s.
The period bears great similarities to our own epoch, with the notable exception that now the American Dream is dead and gone, and not even the new president can resuscitate it.
The death rattle of the American Dream
There is no Global North or Global South—today, the whole world is the Global South
The American Dream was born at a point when suicide rates were at their highest in the country, registering an average of 22.1 in every 100,000 people. Meanwhile, according to a study of suicide rates published in 2016, the US was found to have registered the highest suicide rate in three decades in 2014, with 13 suicides for every 100,000 people.
As for poverty rates, approximately 13.5% of US citizens suffer from poverty according to statistics from 2015, amount to 43 million people. Alongside this, homelessness has spread throughout US cities and suburbs, with statistics from 2016 placing the number of homeless people at half a million.
In the meantime, racial tensions have been rising, with frictions between white and black Americans peaking at their highest since 1964. Today, polarization within the US is at the forefront of politics, and militant groups that have been defunct for decades have reemerged, most prominently the Black Panther movement, the African-American paramilitary group claiming to be fighting back against police brutality. In contrast, there are the classic white militias scattered across the different states. Moreover, it has become commonplace to hear news of police shootings targeting African-Americans, and in some cases, the opposite.
These are the numbers, and if they point to anything, it is the fact that the American Dream is indeed dead.
The American Dream has become synonymous with the American way of life founded on civil liberties, leisure and consumption, getting a job and a family in a home with a white picket fence—the dream that remains ever out of reach for the citizens of the Global South.
The Hollywood industry and Disney have cemented that dream in the minds of millions through thousands of films and animations, so that the idea of the American Dream became ingrained in the minds of these citizens of the Global South. And so it was, for a time, their dream as well.
This dream belongs to an epoch that is nearing its last days. The US is abandoning its role as the world police, internally withdrawing to attempt to address its never-ending crises, with no longer a dream to offer even its own citizens.
As for the world’s response to the ascension of the populist Trump to the presidency, and his plans to build a wall on the border with Mexico, as well as his refugee ban; this response stems from the antique view of good old Uncle Sam, and of America as a place where “dreams come true”—a kind of escapism from the reality that these countries have experienced for a long time. Thus, the citizens of the Global South are behaving as though the US has abandoned them and their dreams of self-improvement.
But the world needs to reconcile itself to the fact that the US is no longer what it once was; like any other country in the Global South, there is no longer a dream to fulfill there. The same can be said of the entirety of that old continent that was once made out to be the “Land of Opportunity”.
The distinction between Global North and Global South is now defunct—today, the whole world is the Global South.