Friday, November 5, 2010

The American Dream and the Canadian Reality

A few years ago Oprah Winfrey attempted to find out why the rest of the world hated Americans. It was during the George Bush years, so that was the answer, but she had her producers visit several countries interviewing average citizens.

She then had a panel of several women from different nations on her show, asking their opinion of the United States and how their country compared.

There was one woman, from Norway I think, who made the claim that people in her country believe that the American Dream is a myth.

Winfrey looked like she'd been slapped. She was in shock. After all, wasn't she proof that the American dream did in fact exist?

Unfortunately, Oprah Winfrey does not represent the average American. Often success of that kind comes not only from hard work, but circumstance and plain old good luck.

The term "The American Dream" was first coined by James Truslow Adams, in his 1931 book The Epic of America. To Adams it was:
"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."
Sounds wonderful, but hardly a reality. Astroturf organizations and bogus think tanks have turned the American dream into someone else's dream.

David Love wrote a column for the Huffington Post: Americans, Your Country Isn't So Great. He was going to write the column regardless of the outcome of the mid-term elections.
I start by saying that your country is not so great, Americans. Any discussion of "what went wrong" must be prefaced with that statement. Harsh words, perhaps, but I do not utter them in haste. And we need to say it over and over again until we change it. The United States is at the bottom of the barrel. We don't live well. Since the 1970s, the bottom 90 percent has experienced income stagnation, while the top 1 percent has seen its wealth skyrocket. In America, two-thirds of income gains in recent years went to the top 1 percent. The gap between rich and poor hasn't been so great since 1928, right before the first Great Depression, with the top 20 percent controlling 84 percent of the wealth.
Canada is now experiencing the same conditions, with the spread between the top and bottom wider than it's ever been.

But in a strange universe, the bottom seems intent on staying there, by instead working to make the rich richer. And they don't even realize they're doing it.
And yet, this recent election is a testament to this country's proclivity -- with help from the bottom 90 percent -- to keep things the way they are, if not worsen them. Some people vote with the oligarchy against their own interests because they simply lack the proper information.
How do we change things and is it too late?

Love believes much of the problem is that people aren't voting. Constant attack ads and hyper-partisan nonsense is turning people off.

Obama did well in 2008 because he inspired. But thanks to Fox News and the corporate funded Tea Party he's had two years of back pedalling. How can you accomplish anything?

If any of us have any chance of living a dream, Canadian, American, Norwegian, whatever, we have got to take the power away from corporations. No more hand outs. No more corporate welfare. No more listening to "think tanks" or bogus grassroots groups with a corporate agenda.

During the protests for democracy when Harper prorogued to save his job, Canadians came together because we had an issue that was important to all of us, regardless of party affiliation or lack thereof: Democracy.

How democratic is it when a government pushes through 50 billion dollars in corporate tax cuts and then tells the rest of the country to expect to suffer.

Things will be harsh we're told.

Tighten our belts.

In 1972 Pierre Trudeau called an election and was poised to be given another majority mandate. But a group called The Committee for an Independent Canada was formed, to counter the spread of American and multinational corporate control of our natural resources. And they also fought what they deemed to be special favours to Corporate Canada.

The NDP produced a book; Louder Voices: Corporate Welfare Bums, and "corporate welfare bums" became the NDP battle cry. As a result Trudeau was reduced to a minority and the NDP had the balance of power. And things got done. Things that Canadians wanted.

It's time to re-enact that campaign.

It is not the poor who are taking too much from the "public trough". Instead the wealthy have sucked it dry.

We need to invoke a bit of our famous Canadian spirit. Author and journalist Bruce Hutchinson once wrote of Canada's finding it's identity:
Something strange, nameless, and profound moves in Canada today. It cannot be seen or labeled, but it can be heard and felt - a kind of whisper from far away, a rustle as of wind in prairie poplars, a distant river's voice, or the shuffle of footsteps in a midnight street. It is less a sound than a sense of motion. Something moves as it has never moved before in this land, moves dumbly in the deepest runnels of a collective mind, yet by sure direction toward a known goal. Sometimes by thought, more often by intuition, the Canadian people are making the final discovery. They are discovering themselves.
We need to rediscover ourselves and create a new "Canadian Dream". One that includes all Canadians.


  1. Oh, I remember Bruce Hutchinson, one of the old-time journalists I'm grateful to have met.
    I just got an e-mail about health care in Alberta. Seems it is disguised as good news, looks like it's going to address some of the concerns of Alberta citizens, but at the same time it is taking control of the health care system away from the elected Legislature and putting it into the hands of the Minister of Health, who will be able to override and negate any existing health care legislation.
    Even a neoconservative legislature is better than a despot, so I'm hoping the Health Minister is a person whose conscience overrides ambition.

  2. We were blessed with an awakening conscience when Bruce Hutchinson wrote those words. No date is given for the quote but just going by the sense of it I would guess it was the late Sixties.