Thursday, October 18, 2007

The American Idea

For its 150 anniversary, Atlantic Magazine asked people to contribute to the magazine their thoughts on the American Idea. In 300 words or less. I'm not sure what the American idea is, but after 5 years of living here, I'm thinking about what it isn't.

It isn't a team game. It isn't one idea that all strive for. It's actually the opposite of that. It's the American dream (no other country has that). But it's singular. The country doesn't have a dream. In the classic American Dream narrative, a person picks themselves up from their bootstraps and succeeds. This is a powerful notion, since the US broke from a country (England) that was all about class. Indeed, the way one speaks is a signal of where they are from, and consequently, the class and the level they will achieve (think of Henry Higgins).

This rugged individualism has created a country whereby it's simply understood that we're all in it alone. There isn't a feeling that we're in it together.

Think about education. About health care. About just about all of the social safety nets that exist in other country. Here, it's up to the individual to foot the bill. The problem is, of course, kids get thrown out with the policy. if a child is born to people in the poor section of town, they don't get health care and they don't get an education. For them, the American Idea isn't a good one.

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