The American Dream is Dead, and We Killed Her

Kaitlin Mahar

We hear about it all the time. The man who grew up in a small apartment with his middle class parents and six siblings who went on to build an oil empire that still stands strong today. The woman who went from being an at-risk youth being raised by her grandmother in the deep South to becoming an award-winning talk show host, philanthropist, author, and magazine publisher, among other achievements. These stories are world-renowned, putting America on the map as the land of opportunity. Millions come to the United States with the same goal in mind, and while the specifics of that goal have evolved over the years, from a house with a white picket fence and pot roast on Sundays, to inventing the next big app or gadget and earning billions of dollars overnight, the idea of finding and achieving the “American Dream” has stayed the same. However, the fact of the matter is that the American Dream, the beautiful, elusive temptress that has inspired many a poem, movie, and, yes, iPhone, has been nothing but a nonexistent, metaphorical corpse that has been rotting for decades.

Sure, there’s the occasional story of the college student who invented the most popular social media platform in the world, but the problem is that so many people from the outside world come to America with this idea in mind, only to eventually be hit with the stark, cold reality that they left their homes and countries in the pursuit of happiness and success, only to live in a shabby studio apartment and work multiple jobs just to make ends meet. This is the reality for most Americans, not the lucky few who were in the right place at the right time, or whose parents knew somebody to help further their child’s career. Everybody hears about the hundreds of success stories of those who saw their dreams come to fruition, but nobody hears about the millions of stories of the people whose dreams never saw the light of day.

And maybe that’s because these stories are a dime a dozen. Or, maybe they’re too depressing. Maybe the fact of the matter is that nobody cares. Perhaps, it’s a combination of the three. However, even if people don’t like talking about these harsh realities, if they even talk about them at all, everybody knows in their heart of hearts that those stories are far more common, and it doesn’t take much searching to find them. If the American Dream existed, the situation would be different, and the stories of success would be far more plentiful than those of failure. Immigrants who came here hoping for a better, freer life wouldn’t be working multiple dead-end jobs just to send whatever little they have left over to their families back home. Healthcare wouldn’t be a luxury that only some could afford. People wouldn’t know that selling their bodies would earn them a better living than working hard and paying their dues. College students wouldn’t be having panic attacks trying to figure out how they’re supposed to find a job after college that can support them and help pay off their astronomical student loans.

Americans’ idealism constructed the idea of the American Dream, calling to her tired, her poor, her huddled masses yearning to breathe free. However, it is the greed of those people who just so happened to be Americans, who achieved their dreams, that caused the opportunity for others to reach their individual American dream to crumble into the dust polluting our air and filling our lungs, only to choke us with the truth that we are not special and life is simply not fair. After all, if it were, then the American Dream wouldn’t be just a dream, would it?