Is the American Dream Worth it?

An excerpt from Mychal Denzel Smith’s book Stakes Is High: Life After the American Dream (2020).

I am not, obviously, the first person to ever poke holes in the idea that is the American Dream, but no matter how many times you have heard it before, no matter how many times you have heard it critiqued, I believe it bears repeating: the American Dream is bullshit. And it’s not bullshit so much because of its relative unlikelihood, but because it rests on the very idea that inequality is natural and good. You can, in America, come from nothing and gain everything—a fantastic idea if you think it is at all just that there would be people who have nothing. The Dream is premised on the idea that someone, somewhere, will always have so little that they must do more, must sacrifice their time, their body, their values, their self in order to achieve, in order to have more. And more is not always more, sometimes more is simply the basic means of survival. Most of the time.

Believing that it is the only path to a better life, generation after generation has fought and strived to have greater access to the American Dream and rarely stepped back to ask if it was something worth having. There is an aphorism, “Pressure makes diamonds,” but for the aphorism to be meaningful, you must find value in diamonds. But diamonds are little more than shiny rocks. Are they worth the pressure?

Is the American Dream worth it? I think, reader, we both know my answer. But I ask you to consider the question, and all it entails, for yourself. Is the potential for the American Dream worth enduring the brutality of American Life?

Perhaps, seeing it worded this way, with the positive connotations of the phrase “American Dream” still tapping around your head, your answer remains yes, so I will ask it another way: Is Donald Trump worth it?

Because Donald Trump is the inevitable result of holding tight to the American Dream. He was inevitable in 2016 and, barring a revolutionary turn for this country, he will be inevitable again in our future. He is the end result of allowing the delusion about our history, of uninterrogated whiteness and masculinity, of making freedom synonymous with capitalist accumulation, of unearned arrogance and untampered individual ambition…He is the things that create American culture, whether they are acknowledged or not.

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