Doubts about the American Dream

The principle that everyone can have success if one works hard enough in America was considered etched in stone. But the reality is far different. Inequality is growing — and it’s an election issue.

One of America’s founding myths is the idea that anyone who really wants to make their way to the top can do so. Success, especially economic success, is therefore only a question of industry, of energy, and of valor. One must always bear in mind such a way of thought if one wants to understand why the Americans conduct social policy debate in a way that looks rather strange from a European perspective: When success depends solely on willpower, comprehensive social protection such as a national health insurance system seems not only wasteful, but contrary to the system.

Of course, the American dream was never transferred systematically to reality, but the principle was recognized. This belief has been lost by Americans more and more, as a survey by The New York Times and CBS shows. Accordingly, six out of 10 citizens believe that wealth in the country is distributed unfairly and — here’s the exciting part — that the government should do something about it. Among Democratic Party supporters, it’s eight out of 10 people.

Social Inequality Is an Important Election Issue

Half of Americans also believe that top salaries should be capped, an idea that is equivalent to an attack on freedom from the perspective of a veteran manager. Critics, however, distinguish increasingly between pay and earnings. Even if the market allows for the manager of a highly speculative investment fund to collect $2 billion in salary per year, the idea is that market performance doesn’t justify what the manager deserves.

The survey is expected to strongly influence the coming presidential campaign. Hillary Clinton, the favorite among the Democratic candidates, has already indicated that she will make the question of social justice the heart of her campaign. A few years ago this would have been considered a sure recipe for political disaster. But her Republican opponents can hardly hold back either. One-third of their core voters also desire change.

Among the causes for the change of heart is the permanent loss of many industrial jobs in the wake of globalization, the financial crisis of 2008, many of the middle class losing their homes, and especially the loss of security. The house is the epitome of the American model of prosperity as well as the belief in self-ruin, perhaps irrevocably. Other people have to deal with the fact that they have had a permanent loss in lifetime salary coming, for example, because they have had to continually and involuntarily take on part-time work.

Classification of People into Ethnic-Social Groups Is Cemented in Place

The real problem lies in the education system. Because many institutions can’t make it with the money they receive from the government alone, they must compete for donations from businesses and wealthy citizens. So the gap grows ever wider: Some rich, predominantly white parts of the country have schools and universities that are among the best in the world. The scenario is often reversed in poor areas. The classification of citizens into ethnic-social groups is not broken, but cemented in place. This is the opposite of the American principle that could once have been taken literally as government-sponsored assistance.

For many decades, Europe has gradually become American year by year — culturally, politically, economically. Films in theaters testify to the manner in which some election campaigns in Germany are conducted today. In a social sense, it seems that America will become a little more European.

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