We may never achieve the dream of an America where every person is treated equally but we’ve seen the America where that dream has faded and that’s not a place where I want to live
I didn’t know how much I loved America until now, as I watch it being pillaged by powerful predators. I weep for the America that today is being dragged bare and in chains through the streets by brigands who defile her, who want only to use her for their own selfish gain.
I know that the America I long for – my America – is only a dream. But that’s what America is: a country born on an ideal written in the Declaration of Independence - “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”
This unifying dream helped to build a country and bound a diverse people together. It was the power of this dream that provided a rallying point for those souls who have been treated as less than equal. The Civil Rights movement, the Gay Rights movement, the Women’s movement all were spawn from the same seed of the dream of a community built upon equality.
This dream that is America has been fading for quite some time. For some – primarily people of color – the American ideal never was real. But for many, the American dream has been visibly slipping away within our lifetime. Communities are overwhelmed with drug addiction. Small towns are struggling for economic survival, and with them the survival of an entire way of life. Middle class and low-income wages have stagnated for a generation, while inequality in America has grown to levels unseen since the 1920s. Older adults are working long after they hoped to retire because they relied on their home values and lost pensions for security.
Into this death-watch of the American dream stepped the populist pretenders. They are politicians who promise to “make America great again” - not by helping those in need or inspiring a renewed sense of community - but by vowing to vanquish our “enemies”. We are told that our struggles have little to do with growing inequality and the real culprits are those immigrants who are taking our jobs and who must be banned from our shores. Our social and economic systems have become unstable – not because of de-regulation and lax oversite of multi-national corporations they say - but because people are abusing the system, taking what they didn’t earn and freeloading on “your tax dollar.” And the answer has been to force the unemployed and those receiving food stamps to submit to drug tests in order to qualify for benefits.
Our fear and our growing social and economic insecurity is used against us. We are pitted, one struggling family against another struggling family. We are encouraged to view the “other” with suspicion, scorn and sometimes even violence.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Antoine de Saint-Exupery summed up our task beautifully when he wrote: “If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
And so, our job is this: remind all our family, friends, and neighbors of the dream of America as a place where everyone is equal; a place where we measure our success by how well the most vulnerable are treated. It is this dream of America that built our communities and our country. It is this America that attracted our parents and grandparents to its shores. We can’t “make America great again” through division, hate, and lies. We make America great again by appealing to our better angels. We make America great again by sharing our country’s prosperity, by getting back to the idea that we lift as we climb. As we advance up the social and economic ladder, we turn around and help those who are struggling to acquire a better stage in life.
We may never achieve the dream of an America where every person is treated equally but we’ve seen the America where that dream has faded and that’s not a place where I want to live.
America may be a dream, but it is a dream I’m willing to fight for.
Michael Soika has been a community activist for more than 30 years working on issues of social and economic justice. His work for justice is anchored by his spiritual formation first as a Catholic and now as a Quaker.