The American Covenant and the American Dream: Can We Restore Our Sense of Community?

July 2011 by John Winfrey

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For generations we Americans have pursued a vision of a community in which all members respect each others’ rights. This vision features a free-market economy augmented by a well-functioning democracy. The vision includes something we call “The American Dream.” In this dream, citizens have “fair starts;” young people have adequate health care and education; and the economy functions sufficiently to provide a wide array of job opportunities.

As this American Dream has evolved, it has struggled to become more and more inclusive in terms of gender, race, and ethnicity. It has been a dream shared by all income classes, especially our growing and prosperous middle class. In my view, it has not been solely about getting ahead.

The American Dream is a covenant, both formal and informal. It is reinforced in our families and in our schools as we study our Constitution, as we sing our national anthem, and as we pledge allegiance to our flag. One formal example of our national covenant is the Employment Act of 1946. In it, Congress and the Administration pledged to use macroeconomic policy to pursue the goal of full employment, recognizing that the “free market” does not guarantee adequate job opportunity, especially during recessions.

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The dream, recounted in countless stories of sacrifice and struggle for independence, has proven very resilient. No matter what the challenge, there has always been healing and a renewed sense of community.

Our present situation features a severe recession with high unemployment and two difficult military entanglements (with yet more armed conflicts arising). Still, these challenges don’t compare with others we have overcome. We have come through them and become even stronger. But this time we seem to have lost our resiliency and hope. Worse yet, we are divided. We are in danger of losing our sense of community. Our middle class has been decimated, our democracy is dysfunctional, and many of our politicians and their strategists continue to spread distrust and polarization.

Will we be able to resuscitate our sense of community and our faith in the American Dream?

How will we respond to the present crisis? It all depends on restoring our mutual respect and community. In order for us to fix our dysfunctional economy, we must first fix our dysfunctional political system.


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