I want to believe in the American Dream. I want to believe in the United States as the land of opportunity. However, throughout my nearly 40 years in this country, I’ve seen little proof that these notions still remain relevant for the majority of our citizens. There are exceptions, of course. Professional athletes still have rags to riches stories. So do pop musicians. And drug dealers. Outside of those three sectors of the economy, I see few opportunities for people like me, ordinary folk not born of wealth and privilege, to break through the ever solidifying socioeconomic class system in our society. I see virtually no upward mobility anymore, but ample downward cascading.
At the birth of our nation, two differing views of democracy vied for power. On one side, the Hamiltonians believed that only landed gentry should have the right to vote and hold elected office. Their rationale was that the working classes were too uncivilized and barbaric to self-govern. They needed a strong ruling class to make decisions for them and keep them productive members of society. If left to their own faculties, the Hamiltonians argued, the working classes would drink away their salaries, squander their resources, and create a shiftless nation of non-productive derelicts. One can argue that there is some wisdom to this notion, for we all know plenty of people today who fit quite nicely into this vision of America the Hamiltonians feared.
Fortunately for most of us, however, there was another vision, fostered by Thomas Jefferson. He and his followers believed that if we as a country cultivated leadership from every sector of society, providing education and opportunity for any ambitious enough to strive to better themselves, then our fledgling democratic-republic would break free from the old, feudalistic systems of Europe and create a new kind of society. In this society, individual citizens from all backgrounds would have the right to self-govern, and furthermore, these citizens would be given the tools through public education to make better decisions for themselves and their families. At the time, this notion was so new and so radical that even those it purported to elevate from second-class citizenship often derided it as the stuff of fairy tales.
When Jefferson was elected as our third president, his vision became the direction in which our country moved. Throughout our history, however, this battle between the Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians has continued. It has changed and morphed and evolved over the last 200+ years, but at its core, the central debate has remained the same. Some believe that we need a wealthy elite to rule and lead, and others believe that even “commoners” have the ability to self-govern if given the proper tools. There are countless shades of gray between these two poles, with countless visions and variations on how to arrive at each end.
Today, it feels as if the Hamiltonians have won. Both of our major political parties seem to believe that the average person is incapable of self-governance. Throughout my lifetime, self-sufficiency has been attacked and eroded from each end of the spectrum. Now, the debate seems to be more about who should control the masses, big government or big business. In my experience, neither has proven to have my best interests at heart. In America today, I feel disenfranchised, powerless, and at the mercy of those in charge, which goes against everything I was taught about the foundation of our Constitution. In this upcoming election, neither candidate puts forth a vision of America that I believe in, and the election itself seems more like a circus sideshow than a real public discourse on the direction of our society.
I want my country back. I want a nation in which I feel in charge of my own destiny. I want the opportunity to ply my trades without overbearing regulations from the government and competition squelching nonsense from the corporations. I want a country that embraces innovation and technology again. I want a country that allows for religious freedom for all. I want a country in which a person can sink or swim based on their abilities and persistence, not on how much money they have to throw at a problem. I want a country that embraces education and free thought and encourages individual expression. I want the America I was promised as a child.