“Americans have been dreaming since our national birth,” H.W. Brands writes to start his new book, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945.
“Americans in 2010 were collectively less confident than their grandparents had been in 1945 that reality would favor their dreams,” he acknowledges a few paragraphs later, because “the world was catching up to America, and the bill for all the previous dreaming was coming due.”
“But,” he reassures us in concluding his two-page Preface, “the moral foundation of America’s dreams had always been the right to dream, and Americans were not about to surrender that.”
These days, however, others seem less sure about the endurance of American optimism. Over the last week, leading commentators and their newspapers have described an America that’s unsure of its ability to perform and to prosper.
Specifically, they see an America with an economy that’s too weak to create enough jobs for its people, an educational system that cannot teach its children, and a leadership that cannot meet its challenges.
“The biggest political change in my lifetime is that Americans no longer assume that their children will have it better than they did,” Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan wrote. “This is a huge break with the past, with assumptions and traditions that shaped us.”
“The country I was born into,” she continued, “was a country that had existed steadily, for almost two centuries, as a nation in which everyone thought – wherever they were from, whatever their circumstances – that their children would have better lives than they did… They’ll be richer or more educated, they’ll have a better job or a better house, they’ll take a step up in terms of rank, class or status…
“Parents now fear something has stopped,” she went on, “…they look around, follow the political stories and debates, and deep down they think their children will live in a more limited country, that jobs won’t be made at a great enough pace, that taxes – too many people in the cart, not enough pulling it – will dishearten them, that the effects of 30 years of a low, sad culture will leave the whole country messed up.”