The American Dream is on the ballot this November.
Wait! Please don’t depart, magnanimous reader! I promise I wrote that line and this isn’t some unsolicited solicitation batted out by an underpaid campaign copy lackey.
(Surreptitiously slips a twenty in the pocket of a pimply undergrad wearing a Reagan/Bush ‘84 t-shirt. “Thanks, kid. Now go buy yourself half a Big Mac value meal before Bidenflation shoves it from Andy Jackson’s grasp.”)
Kidding aside, thanks to my first salaried station (more on that soon) drafting thousands of chiliastic-toned-GOTV messages to rabid right-wingers on Facebook, I too can’t take talk of “the most important election in our lifetime” seriously. Is every election really a light-versus-dark deathmatch? No, but admitting ballot royales aren’t all that important doesn’t raise fourteen billion buckaroos.
So when I say American Oneiroi is on the ballot, right next to the $2.7 million bond referendum for a solar-powered gluten-free kibble dispenser at your local dog park, I mean the Dream is being discussed differently than in past years. The Democrats are still offering their usual superdole package with all amenities charged to Uncle Sam’s AmEx in perpetuity, at least so long as your skin isn’t Yoplait-toned. But Republicans are taking a different tack on the old Yankee yearning—a significant departure from their moribund Reagan message of bootstrap entrepreneurialism.
A few GOP congressional candidates with million-dollar PAC backing have ditched their welfare-state hatchets and are openly embracing family-formation fiscal policy. Blake Masters, a former LewRockwell.com contributor, is running on a platform cored around being able to raise a family on one income. (From an-cap to dirigiste, how’s that for a political journey?) J.D. Vance of Ohio has also staked out a position based on u-turning falling fertility—that is, using Washington’s largesse like a legacy, issuing impressums for parturition. Some Senate Republicans have already pitched increased tax credits to both ease the financial strain of parenthood and encourage baby-making.
Clearly the GOP recognizes its electoral future may not live in an infecund nation. So these proposals are being pushed under the banner of restoring the American Dream. But what if the Dream is, in fact, dead? What if the Great Acceleration that propelled the American middle class through the last century, and now symbolically represents the ideal American way of life, has stopped. And worse, won’t restart.
That’s Malcolm Kyeyune’s contention in “Say Goodbye to Your Email Job”. He claims the Dream is over, the country is awake, and there’s no going back to comforting sleep. “The various social and economic crises of the United States are so well-documented, and so obviously non-transitory, that it is hard to imagine there are all that many real dreamers left.”
Well, when you put it that way, who can argue? I guess the American Nightmare is here to stay. Be well, everyone. Or, be as well as you can now that your hopes have been rudely deflated. *Files column for publication. But pauses before clicking “send”*.
Ah! Almost got me, Malky! Hold on. It says here Kyeyune is based in Sweden. *Quickly pulls up Google Maps and measures distance between Lordstown, OH, and Stockholm.* No, no, no not walkable distance!
Anyway, it appears Mr. Kyeyune may be wanting for on-the-ground expertise in American ambition. But that turns out to be his point. The old American Dream, he says, was “the idea that one could, through honesty and hard work, make a comfortable and decent life for oneself on one salary.” That simple longing has been replaced by the internetization of everything, with Silicon Valley now the driving force of the global economy. “This new dream promised far less justice, and far starker division between ‘winners’ and ‘losers,’ but it was still a vision in which if you hustled, moved to the right city, and befriended the right people, you, too, could work an email job ‘in tech,’ enjoying a smorgasbord of perks and subsidies along the way.”
Hold on one meritocratic minute… that success sequence sounds familiar. Call me a Dream fulfiller, because long ago—approximately one marriage, two kids, three mortgages, four autos, five jobs, and ten years to be precise—I chugged along that same track. I “hustled” in the back of a Target trailer, unloading and stocking boxes for eight hours a day until I landed a digital copywriting job in Washington, DC. No stunted striving for me! And lots and lots and lots of undeserved stupid luck.
Kyeyune says my path is sadly rolling up. Big Tech is financially imploding. Twitter shares are in freefall because the platform is plagued by bots. Facebook’s Animal Crossing rip-off is losing money hand over fist. FAANG layoffs are rising. A dot-com bust redux seems inevitable.
But does Google, or Alphabet, or whatever our giant search ecosystem calls itself now, losing market share mean the American Dream is dead? Millennials, the generational phylum which I hold unfortunate membership of, were told to get digital or struggle in the low-pay labor field. Now gourmet employee cafeterias can’t save the technopolitic barons. Kyeyune is karaoking Crowded House, fatalistically singing “Hey now, hey now, don’t dream it’s over…” We’re in danger of legions of laid-off brogrammers soon slinking to the streets, wearing back braces instead of gilets jaunes, limply lobbing Molotov cocktails with carpal tunnel-deteriorated wrists.
My next point may be too obvious, even by usual workaday pundit standards, but Kyeyune is overstating the death of the American Dream. By a long chalk. To mangle a quote by the Poet, there’s no such thing as killing aspiration, because there’s no such thing as disaspiration. (Go ahead: try looking it up in Merriam-Webster.)
The American Dream is a nebulous concept because not only does it lack a consensus definition, but whatever it means changes in relation to economic conditions. A hundred years ago not only was the American Dream an unrecognizable term, it also didn’t mean raising a family on one income. It was more like being able to cultivate enough crops on your family plot to keep starvation at bay. Fifty years ago, when the Dream became more defined thanks to pop artists like Norman Rockwell, the breadwinner-and-Betty image made sense. But following women’s lib and the decline of domestic manufacturing, the Dream changed, and started including two income-earners.
Now, when the Dream is mentioned at all, it usually means the freedom to follow your own path, whether in the traditional staid marriage-mortgage-minors mold, or splitting house rent in a polyamorous clan. Or somewhere in the middle of domesticity and outré arrangement. But even the freedom of mere choice misses a crucial aspect of the American Dream—an aspect I think lies at its heart.
The American Dream is not, and has never been, an automatic escalator from wagie to 401k. It’s not a punched ticket to the plush life. The Dream is about one thing: fairness. The understanding of fairness undergirds an essential knowing that working to success is possible. Never guaranteed. But graspable. Whether that means grinding it out from the mailroom to the board room, learning Fortran to make gussy up your tech resume, working as a deliverista to pay for night classes, or even starting a hospitality empire with a “small loan of a million dollars,” American fairness means compensatory work stays compensatory. Terms, conditions, wages, and stations can change. Tax rates can shift to skim more off your take-home top. But basic transactional stability remains.
That’s the American Dream. You make of the fairness what you will. If the job of Amazon abandoned-cart email configurer is going the way of the wheelwright, that doesn’t diminish the Dream one limbic bit.
Unless, of course, your career pinnacle was reminding people to buy the plastic hair dryer extenders they left in their Amazon cart. Then you’ll have to see if Walmart’s e-branch is hiring. If a canceled vore fetishist actor can pivot to timeshare flogger, vocation obsolescence isn’t an excuse for anyone—especially a free American.