I think there has been a lot of debate in recent years about “The American Dream” and whether it is fading, whether it is still achievable, who is achieving it and who isn’t. Much of the discussion of the American Dream in recent years seems to revolve around home ownership. Particularly, spacious, new construction or recently remodeled homes on large lots with things like swimming pools, community club houses and tennis courts, etc.
I’ll freely admit that I would like to own my own home. I used to own a condo and I’ve always wanted a house. No real desire for new construction, no need for 5,000 square feet, no need for an indoor river, infinity pool, “surround shower,” commercial refrigerator, home theater, or acreage property. Not that I want to live in a collapsing dump or chicken coop, either. Or at least, as long as everything is well constructed and functional and the layout makes sense, that’s enough for me. I’m not interested in being a slave to a ginormous mortgage. The trade off to live in a mini-Biltmore doesn’t pencil out in my mind.
However, I’d like to back this out a bit. I always say the problem with most analyses starts when you start in the middle and don’t question certain assumptions and definitions. For example, the definition of the American Dream as a big house, and the various trappings—big cars, big TVs, big furniture—that go with it. That is not my American Dream.
My American Dream is to live in place where people feel safe and free to express themselves, are free to determine their own lives on a day to day basis, practice whatever religion and other set of cultural beliefs they choose, in an environment of social equity and responsive government. So not hot.
If you take my definition of the American Dream, then Wade Michael Page stole the American Dream last weekend. He stole it from six people (may they rest in peace) who were practicing their religion on a Sunday morning, as so many in this country do. He stole it from the 40 people who had arrived early to prepare for services. He stole it from the 400 members of that religious community; the people of Milwaukee, the People of Wisconsin, the People of the United States, and everyone everywhere in this World who believes in the freedoms of an Open Society, whether they have them or not, whether that is India or Syria or anywhere.
I think what is hardest for me is knowing that Wade Michael Page must have been a very angry, confused individual. But that he wasn’t born that way; Monsters (at least the human ones) aren’t born, they are created. He’s dead and gone now, so we will likely never really know why he was so angry, so prone to influence by hateful people. And if anger is the problem, then feeling angry about what he did seems to be part of the problem, rather than the solution. I suppose if I was a better person, I would find a way to love him, but I’m not that good. I think it is strange the past day or so, looking at little kids and knowing that people like Wade Michael Page were once little kids like that with so many possibilities and futures at their feet. And I am confident that Wade Michael Page had, or once had an American Dream that was benign—a house, or a business or a military career.
So, whether this is a hate crime or an act of domestic terrorism, I think without a doubt, the World is a bit sadder. More devastating than foreclosures and student loans and bank failures and short hours at museums and libraries, a piece of the American Dream failed on Sunday. At least for me.
How do we recover from this failure? Having now stated the problem and defined terms, a solution seems elusive. There are law suits and legislation. I’m not sure that much gets solved that way, the Constitution occupied that field more or less. I don’t think we’ve done a particularly good job of recovering from similar blows to Democracy in recent years, 9/11 being the most stunning failure of both Open Society and the ability of our culture to recover.
To happier and less complicated Days . . . .